Bill Keller remembers the Iraq war when thinking about one with Iran

I’ve already alluded to the obvious difference of approach displayed by Bill Keller about the prospect of a U.S. war with Iran when compared to his work during the Iraq war as the executive editor of the New York Times. As Eric Alterman, Stephen Walt and others have pointed out, his support for the war and excuses for it can never atone for the far-reaching, ongoing effects–over 100,000 dead Iraqis and the damning psychological impact on U.S. soldiers and society to name a few (even if news media cannot be charged with sole responsibility). Nevertheless his attempt to be more critical now is necessary and should be recognized. Like it or not, he has a large audience.

With that in mind consider Keller’s “Falling In and Out of War” op-ed published during the same week that we mark the 9th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. He notes his previous mistakes and then urges those who are interested in causing more calamity in the Middle East to ask important questions not only about Iran, but Syria too. Of particular importance is the first question,”How is this our fight?”. Keller doesn’t mention Israel in this context but it doesn’t take a genius to make that connection when he says:

Often the American stake is not so clear-cut. We may feel an obligation to defend an ally. (Some allies more than others.) We have been known to fight for our economic interests. We intervene in the name of American values, an elastic rubric that can mean anything from halting a genocide to, in George W. Bush’s expansive doctrine, promoting freedom.

Are those U.S. citizens who reportedly support U.S. military action against Iran asking questions like these? We know that much of the U.S. military establishment and the Obama administration has been doing just that, even if some of the administration’s actions may be bringing us closer to an accidental confrontation.

In any case it’s a welcome development that the Times is in general approaching the Iran issue differently than the likes of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board and particularly former Jerusalem Post editor Bret Stephens who is consistently furious that the U.S. is being cautious this time around. Simply compare Keller’s words above to these by Stephens:

How, then, should people think about the Iran state of play? By avoiding the misdirections of “intelligence.” For real intelligence, merely consider that a regime that can take a rock in its right hand to stone a woman to death should not have a nuclear bomb within reach of its left. Even a spook can grasp that.


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Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.



  1. Should a state which casually incinerates children with white Phosphorus be permitted to have nukes?

    Should a state which ignores its undertaking (for UN membership) not to threaten war be allowed to make war without provocation? (Israel threatens iran but has not shown that even if Iran had several nukes that Israel would be threatened.)

  2. Stephens claims concern for the stoned woman, but, as in Iraq, you can be sure that he won’t be counting the millions of victims of the bombing he pushes.

  3. A regime that can drop white phosphorus on populated areas filled with women and children with its right hand should not have a nuclear bomb within reach of its left either. OK, so the Zionist propagandist you quoted and I agree that barbarians and two year olds should not have nukes.

    Does that mean that the U.S. should attack Israel?

    I guess you’re right: “Sigh!” is the only answer for some people.

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