The Iraq War cheerleaders who are still around 15 years later

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

March 20, 2018, marks the 15th anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq. While the American footprint in Iraq has drastically changed over 15 years, a significant number of the original cheerleaders for the invasion still hold prominent roles in the media today:

John Bolton, Fox News contributor

Bolton was President George W. Bush’s Undersecretary of State for Arms Control when the Iraq War began.

Bolton was a huge backer of the Iraq War: 

Bolton backed an Iraq invasion as early as 1998, when he signed a letter from the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), a neoconservative group led by William Kristol, urging then-President Bill Clinton to attack Saddam Hussein. As the State Department’s top arms-control official during President Bush’s first term, Bolton played a role in pushing the allegation that Saddam Hussein sought uranium in Africa.

“We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq." [BBC, 11/20/02]

“I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct.” [Talking Points Memo, 5/14/15]

Larry Kudlow, CNBC senior contributor

Kudlow was economics editor of National Review and a co-host of CNBC’s Kudlow & Cramer when the Iraq War began. 

“Could it be that a lack of decisive follow-through in the global war on terrorism is the single biggest problem facing the stock market and the nation today? I believe it is. … The shock therapy of decisive war will elevate the stock market by a couple-thousand points.” [National Review, 6/26/02]

“Every day we wait for the impending invasion of Iraq is a day Saddam Hussein grows stronger, a day our national security is threatened, and a day our economic security is jeopardized.” [National Review, 2/6/03]

Max Boot, Washington Post columnist

Boot, also an author, was a contributing editor and columnist for The Weekly Standard when the Iraq War began. 

John Ganz wrote of Boot’s warmongering: 

Boot’s bloodthirstiness is united with a peculiar naïveté about America; it must be said that in this respect he is not unlike Lansdale. Could it really have been, as Boot wrote in 2017, that only Trump opened his eyes to the fact that it’s a bit easier to be a white guy in America, that “I benefitted from my skin color and my gender—and those of a different gender or sexuality or skin color have suffered because of it”? Good for Max if he’s had a change of heart and seen the world through more empathetic eyes; one only wishes he could’ve had those moments of reflection, which seem so modest and so reasonable, circa 2001. But that might not have changed anything. He wrote as recently as 2013 that he feels “No Need to Repent for Support of the Iraq War.” He declares, “I feel no shame being part of the 75 percent of Americans who believed at the beginning that this was a war worth waging.” This move is not quite honest: Boot wants to submerge himself into the center of a crowd, one of the democratic mass, when in fact he was at its vanguard, pushing for the Iraq War early and often. 

“Once Afghanistan has been dealt with, America should turn its attention to Iraq.” [The Weekly Standard, 10/15/01]

“In places like Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and very shortly Iraq, ordinary people clamor for American intervention, and welcome U.S. troops as liberators.” [Nimitz Memorial Lecture at University of California, Berkeley, 3/12/03]

“No need to repent for support of [the] Iraq war.” [Commentary, 3/18/13]

“But how exactly does the Iraq War differ from previous wars? From World War I, when the Great Powers were said to have ‘sleepwalked’ into a conflict that no one really wanted?” [Commentary, 7/6/16]

Richard Cohen, Washington Post columnist

Cohen was a Washington Post columnist when the Iraq War began.

“Iraq not only hasn't accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude otherwise.” [The Washington Post, 2/6/03]

“Initially, I thought bringing down Saddam Hussein was a good cause. I was wrong -- not about the cause, but about its practicality.” [The Washington Post, 4/1/08]

Ari Fleischer, Fox News contributor

Flesicher served as President Bush’s press secretary as the Iraq War began.

“My point is, the likelihood is much more like Afghanistan, where the people who live right now under a brutal dictator will view America as liberators, not conquerors.” [The New York Times, 10/12/02]

“There’s no question that if force is used, it will achieve the objective of preserving the peace far faster than the current path that we’re on.” [White House press briefing, 2/14/03]

“Given the chance to throw off a brutal dictator like Saddam Hussein, people will rejoice.” [White House press briefing, 3/21/03]

“I think that if you look at the Iraqi people, the Iraqi people are overwhelmingly pleased with the fact the United States has helped them to get rid of the Saddam Hussein regime. That was clear from their dancing in the streets, from the way they tore down the statues. And I think that is the viewpoint of the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people.” [White House press briefing, 7/1/03]

Sean Hannity, Fox News host

Hannity was also a syndicated talk radio host and a Fox News host when the Iraq War began.

“We’re going to find all the weapons of mass destruction.” [Fox News, Hannity & Colmes, 2/19/03, via Nexis]

“I was a real believer in the Iraq War. I still am to this day. I still feel that there were probably weapons of mass destruction. I do believe they were likely moved to Syria in the long lead-up to the war.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 9/7/16]

Stephen Hayes, Weekly Standard editor-in-chief

Hayes was a senior writer at The Weekly Standard when the Iraq War began. 

“Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003 that involved training in explosives and weapons of mass destruction, logistical support for terrorist attacks, al Qaeda training camps and safe haven in Iraq, and Iraqi financial support for al Qaeda.” [The Weekly Standard, 11/24/03]

Hayes' 2004 book was titled The Connection: How Al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein has Endangered America. [Media Matters, 6/30/04]

Fred Hiatt, Washington Post editorial director

Hiatt has been editorial page director of The Washington Post since 1999.

As Media Matters has documented, the Washington Post editorial page -- headed by Hiatt since 1999 -- repeatedly echoed the Bush administration's claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. A February 6, 2003, editorial began, “After Secretary Of State Colin L. Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council yesterday, it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.”

The Post’s editorial page also linked the need to invade Iraq to the 9/11 attacks:

During the past decade the United States vowed many times to disarm Saddam Hussein, who made no secret of his hatred and enmity toward the United States; but when the Iraqi dictator resisted, the United States chose to abandon its vows rather than use the force that would have been needed to enforce them. In every case, the calculation, stated or unstated, was the same: Pay tribute, don't make trouble, and maybe nothing worse will happen.

In the ruins of Lower Manhattan in September 2001, most Americans saw evidence that this calculation was incorrect as well as craven. The nation's enemies would not be deterred or mollified by a gentle response; they would be emboldened. President Bush rightly concluded that the nation had to defend itself more vigilantly but also that no defense could succeed unless accompanied by an offensive against the terrorists and the states that sheltered them.

Bill Kristol, Weekly Standard editor-at-large

Kristol was a co-founder of Project for a New American Century, a neo-conservative think-tank Kristol used to crusade for the Iraq War.

Saddam Hussein “will not disarm peacefully. And he must be disarmed. So war will come. … The war itself will clarify who was right and who was wrong about weapons of mass destruction. It will reveal the aspirations of the people of Iraq, and expose the truth about Saddam's regime.” [The Weekly Standard, 3/17/03]

Kristol bragged that the war would last just two months:

In 2015, Kristol defended the decision to invade Iraq: 

Even with the absence of caches of weapons of mass destruction, and the mistakes we made in failing to send enough troops at first and to provide security from the beginning for the Iraqi people, we were right to persevere through several difficult years. We were able to bring the war to a reasonably successful conclusion in 2008.

Paul Gigot, Wall Street Journal editorial page editor

Gigot has been the editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal since 2001. 

Under Gigot, the editorial page frequently hyped the likelihood that Saddam Hussein was close to producing or obtaining a nuclear weapon. The Journal forwarded alarmist claims about Iraq's nuclear capabilities on numerous occasions:

  • August 2, 2002: “Above all, a debate would let Mr. Bush demonstrate that he has by far the stronger case. Even the critics concede that Saddam is a threat, after all, a tyrant who has gassed his own people, tried to kill a U.S. President and whose military routinely fires at American pilots patrolling no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Monday that before the Gulf War Saddam was 'within a year or two' of having nuclear weapons. And at Wednesday's Senate hearings, former Iraqi nuclear engineer Khidir Hamza said Saddam will have enough weapons-grade uranium for three nuclear bombs by 2005.”
  • August 29, 2002: “There is always the chance that Congress could refuse the President. But this must be measured against the strong case the Administration has, a case Vice President Dick Cheney pressed earlier this week in Nashville. Mr. Cheney flatly declared that when it comes to a nuclear-armed Saddam, 'the risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action.'”
  • September 25, 2002: “And then there is the redoubtable Mr. Blair, an ally who continues to risk dissent in his party and country for a cause in which he believes. Yesterday Mr. Blair released a dossier of intelligence on Iraq. The 50-page report describes how Saddam has tried to buy uranium from Africa for use in nuclear weapons, has 20 missiles that could reach British military bases in Cyprus as well as Israel and NATO members Greece and Turkey, and stating that Iraq's chemical weapons are on standby for use within 45 minutes. 'The policy of containment is not working. The WMD program is not shut down. It is up and running,' Mr. Blair told Parliament.”
  • September 9, 2002: “Democrats hardly need two more months now to deliberate over this evidence, most of which they already know. They merely want to push any decision past Election Day so their votes won't put their Senate majority at risk. They can then posture as statesmen for two months but only declare themselves after the day when voters would be able to hold them immediately responsible. Let's hope Saddam's nuclear weapons program is operating on the same wait-until-the-election timetable.”
  • A January 27, 2003, editorial was titled “If Saddam Survives.”

Judith Miller, Fox News contributor

Miller was a New York Times reporter when the Iraq War began.

Miller produced a series of now-debunked reports that the Bush administration used to buttress its claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. As Franklin Foer wrote for New York magazine:

During the winter of 2001 and throughout 2002, Miller produced a series of stunning stories about Saddam Hussein's ambition and capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction, based largely on information provided by [Ahmad] Chalabi and his allies -- almost all of which have turned out to be stunningly inaccurate.

For the past year, the Times has done much to correct that coverage, publishing a series of stories calling Chalabi's credibility into question. [New York magazine, 6/7/04]

In a 2004 interview, she told The New York Review of Books: “My job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of The New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.”

Former New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller discussed Miller’s Iraq War reporting with Media Matters in 2011: 

New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller says one of his biggest mistakes as editor was not addressing the paper's misleading pre-Iraq War coverage sooner, including the reporting of former Times writer Judy Miller.

Keller tells Media Matters that he is “not at all” surprised that Miller ended up at the “conservative” Fox News Channel after she left the Times under a cloud of controversy related to her Iraq reporting.

Keller, who announced Thursday that in September he will leave the post he has held since July 2003, said: “Judy was the author of a lot of those stories, and I should have dealt with the stories and with her I think as the sort of first order of business when I took the job rather than waiting until the following year.”

Keller was referring to the unusual editor's note the Times published on May 26, 2004, in which it admitted many of its pre-war stories about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- a number of which were reported by Miller -- misrepresented the situation before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“The whole Judy Miller WMD experience was ... one of the low points of the last eight years,” Keller said. 

Joe Scarborough, MSNBC host

Scarborough was hired by MSNBC as the Iraq War began.

Joe Scarborough repeatedly cheered on the Iraq War and attacked people who criticized it.
“Congressman [Jack] Kingston [R-GA], give me a quick response. How could there be anyone left on the planet today that doesn't believe that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction?” [MSNBC, MSNBC Reports, 3/5/03, via Nexis]

Toppling Saddam Hussein "will mean the end of his weapons of mass destruction.” [MSNBC, MSNBC Reports, 3/11/03, via Nexis]

“I’m waiting to hear the words ‘I was wrong’ from some of the world’s most elite journalists, politicians and Hollywood types…. I just wonder, who’s going to be the first elitist to show the character to say: ‘Hey, America, guess what? I was wrong’? Maybe the White House will get an apology, first, from the New York Times‘ Maureen Dowd. Now, Ms. Dowd mocked the morality of this war….

“Do you all remember Scott Ritter, you know, the former chief UN weapons inspector who played chief stooge for Saddam Hussein? Well, Mr. Ritter actually told a French radio network that — quote, ‘The United States is going to leave Baghdad with its tail between its legs, defeated.’ Sorry, Scott. I think you’ve been chasing the wrong tail, again.

“Maybe disgraced commentators and politicians alike, like Daschle, Jimmy Carter, Dennis Kucinich, and all those others, will step forward tonight and show the content of their character by simply admitting what we know already: that their wartime predictions were arrogant, they were misguided and they were dead wrong. Maybe, just maybe, these self-anointed critics will learn from their mistakes. But I doubt it. After all, we don’t call them ‘elitists’ for nothing.” [MSNBC 4/10/03 via FAIR]

Bret Stephens, New York Times columnist and MSNBC contributor

Stephens was editor of The Jerusalem Post when the Iraq War began.

As The New Yorker noted, in 2003 Stephens' Jerusalem Post "named one of the Iraq War’s chief architects, Paul Wolfowitz, its ‘man of the year.’” 

“Saddam may unveil, to an astonished world, the Arab world’s first nuclear bomb.” [The Jerusalem Post, 11/15/02]

Stephens criticized the Obama administration's case for military intervention in Syria by contrasting it with Bush's decision to invade Iraq, which he claimed was made based on “highly detailed” intelligence revealing weapons of mass destruction. Stephens claimed that the “testimony of U.N. inspectors like Hans Blix” supported the Bush administration's case for war, and accusations that the Bush administration lied were “libel” and “cheap slander.” In fact, Blix told CNN in 2004 that the Bush administration “chose to ignore” his team's concerns about the lack of solid evidence in favor of war, and that prior to the invasion the evidence of WMDs in Iraq was revealed to be “shaky.” [Media Matters, 4/13/17]

David Frum, Atlantic senior editor

Frum was a speechwriter for President Bush when the Iraq War began.

Frum is renowned for writing George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech. Alex Nichols described Frum’s Iraq boosterism in 2017:

Bush chief speechwriter Michael Gerson, a fellow fanatical interventionist and veteran of the neoconservative underworld, tapped Frum for the speechwriting team in 2000. His greatest accomplishment was the authorship of Bush’s 2002 State of the Union speech, now known for its most famous phrase, “axis of evil.” The axis was a grouping of three countries — Iraq, Iran and North Korea — that were implicit allies in a plot to destroy America. The supposed ties between the three mostly came down to their mutual love for imaginary “weapons of mass destruction” and non-existent collaboration with al-Qaeda. As Trump threatens war crimes against civilians in Iraq and Syria, sanctions Iran despite its compliance with our nuclear agreement and threatens “fire and fury” for North Korea, Frum must be held accountable for cementing them as boogeymen in the public imagination.

Frum resigned his post in February 2002 in order to join the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank then working in close association with the Bush administration. With them, he emerged as one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the War on Terror. In 2004, Frum and former adviser to the Bush Department of Defense Richard Perle published a book titled An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror. Its text was as audacious as its title. “An End to Evil will define the conservative point of view on foreign policy for a new generation — and shape the agenda for the 2004 presidential-election year and beyond,” a description of it reads. By this time, the Iraq War was in full swing, and Frum and Perle offered full-throated apologia. Under the assumptions that the war would bring stable democracy to Iraq and that the imaginary WMDs would be located soon enough, they called for similar action against North Korea and Iran. 

Eli Lake, Bloomberg View columnist

Lake was a State Department correspondent for United Press International (UPI) when the Iraq War began.

As noted by Adam Weinstein for Gawker, Lake argued for the legality of the Iraq War in a 2003 column for UPI:

“On the facts of the case, it is hard to argue that Iraq has given up its weapons of mass destruction. ... With this kind of evidence, far from being an international outlaw, the United States would be a the (sic) defender of the entire institution of international (sic) should it lead a war to disarm Iraq.”

Eliot Cohen, Atlantic contributing editor

Cohen was a co-founder of Project for the New American Century.

MSNBC’s Zachary Roth described Cohen’s role in boosting the Iraq War in 2013: 

[Cohen] was a key agitator for an Iraq invasion and for a maximalist response to the 9/11 attacks. In a November 2001 op-ed in which he called the War on Terror “World War IV,” Cohen argued that the US. should “target” Iraq because it had “helped al Qaeda” and “developed weapons of destruction.” Not long after, he touted a spurious connection between Muhammed Atta, the chief 9/11 hijacker, and Saddam’s regime. In Congressional testimony in 2002, Cohen framed a stark choice for policymakers: Allow Saddam “to acquire weapons of mass destruction … or to take action to overthrow him.” In 2007, Cohen became a top adviser to Condoleezza Rice at the State Department. 

Ann Coulter

Coulter was a prominent conservative author and commentator when the Iraq War began.

Coulter, alongside Sean Hannity, pushed lies about Army Ranger Pat Tillman’s opposition to the Iraq War. Asawin Suebsaeng wrote in 2017 for The Daily Beast about Coulter’s Iraq War boosterism and how she has pivoted away from it under Trump:

“I think Iraq was a crucial part of the war on terrorism—if you had to choose between Iraq and Afghanistan, I’d take Iraq over Afghanistan,” Coulter said on a Fox Business panel, debating anti-war libertarians, in late 2011. “PATRIOT Act, fantastic, Gitmo, fantastic, waterboarding, not bad, though [even harsher] torture would’ve been better.” 

Coulter went on to tell a bewildered John Stossel and Matt Welch that “[Iraq] is a fantastic country for regime change,” that “torture works beautifully,” and that position regarding potential blowback or unintended negative consequences to the war were merely a “crazy ACLU argument.” 

Rush Limbaugh

Limbaugh was also host of his own radio show when the Iraq War began.

On April 7, 2003, Rush Limbaugh said, “We’re discovering WMDs all over Iraq.” On September 26, 2007, Limbaugh called soldiers who advocated withdrawal from Iraq “phony soldiers.” Limbaugh has subsequently tried to justify the Iraq War, even declaring that President Bush should be added to Mount Rushmore. In January 2018, Limbaugh accused the “deep state” of faking weapons of mass destruction evidence in Iraq to damage Bush.

Nicole Wallace, MSNBC host

Wallace was George W. Bush's communications director as the Iraq War began.

"[Obama's] legacy on foreign policy is going to be that he didn't start a war in Iraq. He wasn't the president, thank God, in the years after 9/11." [MSNBC, 5/30/14]