Judith Miller and the War in Iraq: A Case for Evolution

We have to give Miller a little credit. She did at least get one thing right: if your elected officials can't do their job, sometimes you just have to jump right in there and do it for them.
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Bill Keller's Friday e-mail to the Times staff shows that he's reluctantly bitten the bullet; Maureen Dowd's Saturday column in the Times has endowed Judith Miller with another epic nickname. Almost everyone who's anyone has joined in the fray, and the demise of Miller's career (and, incidentally, what little credibility the White House has left) seems imminent.

It's what we've wanted all along, right? We've been blogging the whole sorry mess to death in the hopes of getting to this very point. All that's left is Fitzgerald's final parry, the thrust of his sword, and then, we tell ourselves, this whole thing will come to its inevitably bitter end.

But we're fooling ourselves. No matter what Fitzgerald decides, the end of this debacle is no more in sight than the end of the war in Iraq. And, in case we forgot, those two things are inexorably connected. After all, it was Miller's reporting that served as the foundation for the intelligence that started this war, right? Dr. Reardon, I defer to your expertise, but might I add an addendum to your Oct. 21st post: Judith Miller may well rival Harriet Miers for the title of modern-day Helen of Troy.

Miller's reporting had the power to launch far more than a mere thousand ships. Right now, there are approximately 140,000 troops in Iraq who have been charged with the impossible: the neutralization of existing threats and the democratization of the country which will miraculously, somehow, save itself from...itself, a well-intentioned but ultimately self-aggrandizing boondoggle that has no end in sight.

I imagine we now must feel much the way Darwin felt aboard the Beagle, watching as both the future and past unfolded before his eyes. Sorry, Mr. Johnson, esteemed members of the Discovery Institute, but there has rarely been a more compelling argument for evolution than this: Judith Miller, a reporter whose downfall proves that only the fittest survive, whose legendary mistakes and miscalculations will lead to the transmutation of an entire generation of soldiers, a nation of onlookers, and the very bedrock of journalism. There is no intelligent design here: this is human folly, pure and simple. Ms. Miller, shame on you.

Of course, we may be fooling ourselves, but we aren't fools. We know that Judith Miller's power does not eclipse the influence of the Times or the Bush administration. She alone is not the root of this problem; there is more than enough shame to go around. There is plenty left over to put a serving on Keller's plate, for speaking out too little and too late and for giving Miller power unrivaled by other journalists. There's enough for Sulzberger, for opting to stay mum when he should have been coming clean. There's enough for Libby and Rove, for saying the things they know they shouldn't have. There's also a hefty serving for Bush, for, well, for too many things to count.

It's so easy for us to place the blame now that the names of the accused have been circled in red, now that a mark has been placed upon their door. But the rest of us share a little responsibility, too, though we're loath to admit it. We all read the stories, you know. We watched the news and listened to those who persuasively sold the war. True, many of us balked at it, we talked and wrote and blogged our disagreement and malcontent, but it rarely amounted to anything resembling action. So, shame on me, too. Shame on all of us.

On Wednesday, the AP reported that, at an appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Condoleezza Rice declined to say that US troops wouldn't still be needed in Iraq in ten years. Some of the soldiers there now are on their second or third tour. In comparison, Miller's much-touted 85 days in jail seems paltry.

The soldiers stationed in Iraq are dedicated and outfitted with guns and tanks, but despite the resolve and weaponry, they are faced with an unsettling reality: that of spending years away from their families, marooned in a country whose citizens have neither the infrastructure nor the firepower to attack anyone other than the outsiders who relentlessly bludgeon them with the gift of democracy.

And so our loyal troops, committed to supporting our administration's hapless cause, have been forced to hunker down, much like the people in New Orleans who stood in Katrina's path and the people still in Florida as Wilma makes her howling approach. And our elected officials? Well, they do just what they did with Katrina: they watch it on TV.

Many of us also sat on our couches and watched the coverage in Iraq and witnessed Katrina's destruction. Many of us shook our heads and did little else. I hope we've learned our lesson. Despite what the spin doctors would like us to believe, we know that there is no justifiable excuse for inaction, and we are all smart enough to realize that Miller's true historical import has little to do with freedom of speech.

And now the tables have turned. Miller has been knocked off her pedestal and the Times dethroned. Blogs like this one have staged a coup; they've managed to harness some of Miller's power and have taken the crown. The old king is dead -- long live the new king. The more we blog, the more power we wield. And no matter how many compliments Byron Calame showers upon us as a peace offering, shame on anybody who considers giving that power back.

If Miller was indeed as powerful as we give her credit for, then we are now in the position to effect as much change as she did, only this time for the better. Maybe we can rattle our administration's cage with truth and fact instead of unsubstantiated fears. Maybe we can put our heads together and figure out how to do what's right for Iraq and what's right for America.

In the end, though, we have to give Miller a little credit. She did at least get one thing right: if your elected officials can't do their job, sometimes you just have to jump right in there and do it for them.

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