How did it happen that the US, the world’s only superpower, made what it termed a “preemptive” attack on Iraq in 2003? As much of the world disapproved, this question is more than just of academic interest. The simple answer is that the attack was an executive decision of President George W. Bush. The simple answer, however, does not suffice. The Bush administration made its decision

neither alone nor in a political vacuum. Although the US may not be so democratic as it perceives itself to be, it is at least a pluralistic society in which even executive decisions reflect wider, societal sanction. The executive decision was authorized by a Congressional vote that was preceded by considerable public debate. Thus, understanding why the US acted as it did requires examining the wider debate. Public debate takes a variety of forms. It includes political leaders making speeches or just

commenting informally to the press. It includes the protest activities of social movement organizations. The opinion pages of the press are also one major forum in which public debate takes place. Together, these and kindred practices constitute what Habermas (1989) called “the public sphere,” which he imagined as the steering mechanism of a democracy. This chapter examines the debate on Iraq in the opinion pages of America’s elite news

publications: The New York Times (NYT), The Washington Post (Post), The Christian Science Monitor (CSM), The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Time, and Newsweek. Opinion pages include unsigned editorials representing the publication’s position, and signed opinion pieces, representing individuals’ opinions. The study presented includes both. In August 2002, the Bush administration launched what White House Chief of Staff

Andrew Card described as its “marketing” of war. On 10 October, Congress authorized President Bush to use armed force against Iraq. This study covers the elite op-ed debate from the months preceding until just after the crucial Congressional vote. Our goal was to determine how America deliberated about war. Which arguments

were entertained the most in the elite press? Were the opinions largely of one accord, and if so, was that accord for or against going to war? Some described the elite press as slavishly supportive of the government in foreign affairs (Parenti 2001; Thomas 2006). Others (e.g. Bennett 1990; Herman and Chomsky 2002; Mermin 1999) argue that

although some press criticism of foreign policy can be expected, it only echoes prevailing disagreement among political elites. Thus, this argument goes, the opinions expressed in the elite press set a narrow agenda of acceptable opinion that excludes the most damaging criticisms of government policy. Most recently, Entman (2004) has argued that since the end of the Cold War, press criticism of foreign policy will go beyond such narrow limits when the situation to which the government responds is sufficiently ambiguous. The data presented here help adjudicate among these various perspectives. In parti-

cular, we will show that opinion in the elite press was not of one mind on Iraq and that there was, rather, considerable opposition to presidential policy (opposition not aptly described as merely reflecting elite disagreement). Simultaneously, opposition expressed in the press kept within fairly strict boundaries, addressing almost exclusively prudential considerations and only rarely broaching moral or legal criticisms.