Are the National Review’s ‘Editors’ just Rich Lowry?

J. Arthur Bloom Deputy Editor
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Why does the National Review want the United States to take stronger measures against Bashir al-Assad when the majority of its contributors, along with the American public, seem to be wary of any kind of intervention?

In an editorial published Wednesday, “The Editors” endorsed the Obama administration’s intention to take military action in Syria, while arguing they should go further, putting U.S. special forces on the ground to arm and train a rebel army with links to al-Qaeda, “creating proxy forces on the ground.” Though they stopped short of calling for the U.S. to topple Assad — it’s a “manifestly desirable goal,” but for the dubious opposition — the editors nonetheless endorsed significant action to hasten that outcome.

“[T]he crucial question in Syria is not what we’ll do from the air but what we can do on the ground to shape an opposition in which we can have some confidence,” they cautioned, but are apparently unwilling to entertain the possibility that the answer is nothing.

The article takes on faith the administration’s insistence that Assad has used chemical weapons, when in fact it is far from clear that they did so and the administration is walking back its firmer statements to that effect. The constitutional requirement for congressional authorization was not mentioned; perhaps they were taking a cue from John Yoo that it’s not necessary.

Calling for more forceful action in the Middle East is par for the course for National Review — they said the same things about Libya and Iraq. But it’s remarkable how few of the magazine’s affiliates — including the publisher — endorse the rationale for aiding Syria’s Islamist rebels.

Senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru was the first to disagree with Wednesday’s editorial, and penned a dissent at The Corner. Prominent NR writer Charles C.W. Cooke immediately endorsed Ponnuru’s post, entitled “A Dissent on Syria,” and hours later publisher Jack Fowler did as well. There’s hardly been any gung-ho pro-intervention writing at the house blog The Corner in the last few days, and plenty of skepticism. Even a reliable hawk like Andrew McCarthy has ruled out intervention in Syria, as has columnist Mark Steyn.

Any respectable publication would allow some disagreement with the official editorial position, but it’s remarkable that so few of National Review’s writers  — and the publisher —  endorse the publication’s official position regarding war in Syria. TheDC contacted the National Review’s New York City offices, but neither the operator nor publisher Jack Fowler were willing to provide further comment regarding how editorials are produced.

These conspicuous dissents, and the opacity of National Review’s editorial process, raise the question of whether the publication’s official stance is driven primarily by the editor-in-chief, Rich Lowry. The day the United States invaded Iraq for the second time on March 20, 2003, Lowry wrote a blog post at NRO’s house blog the Corner, entitled “Next—Syria,” in which he urged the Bush administration to take action against Bashar al-Assad. Here is the text of that post in full:

“Assuming that this goes as well as it seems to be going at the moment, I would hope the administration would, when it’s over, make some demands on the last remaining Baathist regime in the Middle East, in Syria. The Turks a few years ago basically bullied the Syrians to coughing up a Kurdish terrorist. We’ll be in a very strong position to demand that they end their relationship with terrorist groups, and perhaps even loosen their grip on Lebanon. Baby Assad must already be terrified.”

More than a decade later, a Democratic administration is on the verge of granting Lowry his hoped-for intervention.

The Daily Caller contacted Jack Fowler at the National Review’s New York offices to inquire about his curious dissent from the editorial position of the magazine of which he is the publisher.

When asked to comment on Lowry’s 2003 blog post calling for Syrian intervention, Fowler responded with an unprompted criticism of The Daily Caller.

“We are all in the same boat,” he said, regarding the editorial position from which he dissented. “Your particular place of employment has a peculiar obsession with the National Review. I don’t know what motivates it, and I frankly don’t care what motivates it, but I’m not playing into your little game here.”

When TheDC replied that no games were being played, Fowler said, “but there is a game! The fact that you’d go back and find what Rich Lowry wrote in 2003, about Syria… You know, it says to me that somebody there has an obsession! And if you have an obsession, then I suggest there’s some psychological cures for that or some pharmaceutical cures for that. You know, get a life, corporately.”

In the course of a heated exchange, Fowler was unwilling to explain his publication’s curious editorial, the process by which it was produced, or why he, as publisher, allowed it to go forward.

Despite multiple attempts to contact his office, Lowry was unavailable for comment by press time.

Nearing the end of his life in 2006, William F. Buckley, the founder of National Review, decried the “neoconservative hubris” that led erstwhile conservatives to support activist foreign policy that “overstretches the resources of a free country.”

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