Glenn Beck has acknowledged that Democratic doves were correct to oppose the 2003 U.S. military invasion of Iraq. Liberals “said we couldn’t force freedom on people,” the conservative political commentator said at the beginning of his June 17 radio show. “Let me lead with my mistakes. You were right. Liberals, you were right, we shouldn’t have.”
His new stance is a significant transition from the position he maintained in 2007, when he claimed that withdrawing from Iraq would be “America’s most shameful act of immorality since slavery.”
Ignoring his conclusion that Iraq did not become a democracy because its people “don’t understand” or “even really want” freedom, the surge in unrest in Iraq has caused Beck — like so many others — to change his opinion on what was one of the most important foreign policy issues the United States has faced in decades. In the end, Beck is a political pundit and not a politician, but commentators play a huge role in driving the national conversation and shaping public opinion.
The politicization of the Iraq war made it a mainstay of conservative radio talk shows like Beck’s. And there is no doubt that political commentary by pundits like Beck has played a role in informing the debate surrounding the invasion of Iraq, especially in the early days, when the successful exportation of American democracy seemed more reachable. His admission that the invasion was a mistake is a key moment in the political debate.
As violence in Iraq grows and an Islamic insurgency — the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS — seizes control of more and more territory from the Iraqi government, the withdrawal of U.S. troops is not quite the bright point in the history of the conflict that it once was. The growing conflict has put pressure on the Obama administration to respond, and already the president has deployed 300 special forces to help train the Iraqi army. Amid this renewed focus on the stability of Iraq and the possibility of renewed U.S. involvement, many political commentators are arguing that advocates of the 2003 invasion should be excluded from the current debate.
The Atlantic’s James Fallows wrote that Iraq war hawks “might have the decency to shut the hell up on this particular topic for a while.” Slate’s Jamelle Bouie told Iraq hawks, “Given your role in building this catastrophe, you should be barred from public comment, since anything you could say is outweighed by the damage you’ve done.”
Beck would fall in that category, as would former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and current Secretary of State John Kerry. Those who believe advocates of the last Iraq war should not participate in the debate cite accountability as the reason for that stance. But both sides of the debate should still be included. And, for better or for worse, political pundits like Beck are major contributors to political debate. While Beck’s influence may be limited to the conservative end of the political spectrum and his style of political rhetoric is more entertainment than informative, the size of his empire is huge.
In his radio segment, Beck explained that in 2002, he believed that Saddam Hussein had been backing terrorism targeting the United States, and for that reason he supported the 2003 invasion. “In spite of the things I felt at the time when we went into war, liberals said, ‘We shouldn’t get involved, we shouldn’t nation-build’ and [that] there was no indication the people of Iraq had the will to be free,” Beck said. “I thought that was insulting at the time. Everybody wants to be free.” But now he has said that assumption was incorrect.
For years, Beck was adamant that intervention in Iraq was absolutely necessary:
- 2006: Beck argued that the news media had failed to cover the positive impact of the U.S. presence in Iraq, and to back up that claim, he cited vaccinations, improved school infrastructure, and the training of the Iraqi Special Police force. “Maybe, there’s another side of the story,” Beck said on CNN. “A side the media doesn’t talk about because the headlines just aren’t as sensational as death and destruction.”
- 2006: Beck criticized former Secretary of State Colin Powell after he said the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of the United States’ fight against terrorism. “Who cares what the rest of the world thinks?” he said.
- 2007: Beck criticized politicians who had changed their position on the Iraq invasion. “What is surprising is how many people are changing their position on fighting the war,” he said in an extended segment, pointing to Hillary Clinton in particular.
- 2012: Beck argued that the American people, whose perception of the United States’ success in spreading democracy to the Middle East had started to decline, were wrong. During a segment on his former show Headline Prime, Beck cited a poll in which 64 percent of Americans were found to believe the costs of continued involvement in Iraq outweighed the benefits. He called the public clueless, comparing the opinion of the American people to a 1940 Gallup poll that showed 77 percent of Americans thought the U.S. should not enter the war in Europe if Germany appeared to winning.
More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet:
- U.S. Economy Takes One Step Forward and Half a Step Back
- Can Government Stop the Student Debt Crisis?
- Here’s How Gov. Walker Showed the Dark Side of Citizens United
Follow Meghan on Twitter @MFoley_WSCS