Will newspapers ever admit that they are wrong?

When the Washington Post endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 it raised a concern.

Mr. Obama’s greatest deviation from current policy is also our biggest worry: his insistence on withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq on a fixed timeline. Thanks to the surge that Mr. Obama opposed, it may be feasible to withdraw many troops during his first two years in office. But if it isn’t–and U.S. generals have warned that the hard-won gains of the past 18 months could be lost by a precipitous withdrawal–we can only hope and assume that Mr. Obama would recognize the strategic importance of success in Iraq and adjust his plans.

This past year when it endorsed the president for re-election, again, Iraq was, again, a concern:

By not securing a presence in Iraq after ending the U.S. military mission, he failed to capitalize on America’s decade-long commitment to that nation, and his ambivalence regarding Afghanistan — sending more troops, but with artificial deadlines and no clear commitment to their success — promises trouble in coming years.

In the latter endorsement, the Washington Post even praised President Obama for having “vigorously pursued al-Qaeda.” Yet because of the President’s failure to secure Iraq, any of his accomplishments against al Qaeda are now at risk.

The Washington Post ignored a major flaw – twice – in Barack Obama’s foreign policy to endorse him.

The President himself made the fight against Al Qaeda the centerpiece of his foreign policy as he said at West Point in December 2009:

Now, throughout this period, our troop levels in Afghanistan remained a fraction of what they were in Iraq. When I took office, we had just over 32,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan, compared to 160,000 in Iraq at the peak of the war. Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive. And that’s why, shortly after taking office, I approved a longstanding request for more troops. After consultations with our allies, I then announced a strategy recognizing the fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan and the extremist safe havens in Pakistan. I set a goal that was narrowly defined as disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and pledged to better coordinate our military and civilian efforts.

Since then, we’ve made progress on some important objectives. High-ranking al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and we’ve stepped up the pressure on al Qaeda worldwide. In Pakistan, that nation’s army has gone on its largest offensive in years. In Afghanistan, we and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping a presidential election, and — although it was marred by fraud — that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan’s laws and constitution. …

I do not make this decision lightly. I opposed the war in Iraq precisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force, and always consider the long-term consequences of our actions. We have been at war now for eight years, at enormous cost in lives and resources. Years of debate over Iraq and terrorism have left our unity on national security issues in tatters, and created a highly polarized and partisan backdrop for this effort. And having just experienced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the American people are understandably focused on rebuilding our economy and putting people to work here at home.

To President Obama, Iraq was a distraction from the main fight against al Qaeda. But the President’s assumption of a highly structured organization was flawed. Obama’s assumption is that if al Qaeda in Afghanistan is on the run it can’t do harm elsewhere.

With the recent surge in al Qaeda activity, apparently even the Washington Post could no longer keep quiet.

In Wishful thinking on the war on terror, the editors write:

The president also has sought to minimize U.S. involvement in dangerous countries as much and as quickly as possible. He failed to negotiate a follow-on force in Iraq, where violence is again spiraling out of control. He has resisted engagement in Syria, where vicious brigades associated with al-Qaeda are establishing beachheads. He has provided little assistance to Tunisia or Libya, where emerging democracies are struggling to contain Islamist militias. He surged troops to Afghanistan but simultaneously announced a timetable for their withdrawal, which is underway. …

His hope of fighting the bad guys as antiseptically as possible, with drone strikes and a minimal presence, may prove as forlorn as President Clinton’s similar effort in the 1990s, when the equivalent weapon at his disposal was cruise missiles.

While Mr. Obama is also right that military tools aren’t enough in a conflict like this, his promise of “patiently supporting transitions to democracy in places like Egypt and Tunisia and Libya” through non-military means — the proper strategy — is not being kept.

I don’t agree with everything here, but these are well informed people. Their criticism of Obama is well earned.

But they knew the policy that Barack Obama espoused and knew that it wasn’t a good idea. By 2012 they knew that it wasn’t working. How the United States projects its power in the Middle East is a critical foreign policy issue- if not the most crucial – and the yet the editors endorsed Barack Obama for a second term.

I suppose it’s welcome that the Washington Post is calling out the president for a failed policy. But they knew it before and it should have forced them to reconsider their support for the President. The criticism is welcome, but a mea culpa for failing in their civic duty is in order too.

Though not as bad as blaming the president’s critics for his failures, if the Washington Post and other media outlets wish to restore their depleted credibility, they will have to do acknowledge their own mistakes, not just point out the predictable failings of the candidate they embraced.

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