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This story originally appeared in Common Dreams on Aug 1, 2023. It is shared here with permission under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.

The Washington Post (6/23/22) describes its opinion section as a platform for articles that “provide a diversity of voices and perspectives for our readers.” Yet as the U.S. and its allies pour military aid into Ukraine, escalating the already bloody conflict with ever-more deadly new weapons, the paper’s opinion pages begin to look less like a platform for diverse voices and more like a cheerleading squad for the military-industrial complex.

Post opinion journalism abounds with pieces advocating the sort of “light side vs. dark side” moral rhetoric characteristic of corporate media’s war coverage (, 12/1/22). A consequence of this binary worldview is the tendency to present the deployment of increasingly horrific means, like President Joe Biden’s recent decision to arm Ukraine with U.S. cluster munitions, as essentially just and necessary to achieve the West’s always-noble ends.

From war crime to ‘correct call’

Cluster munitions are a type of ordinance which can leave unexploded “bomblets” around for decades. Almost 50 years after the end of the U.S. government’s war of aggression against Laos, unexploded cluster bombs continue to kill and maim innocent people—frequently children.

These weapons are rightly so reviled that, shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded to the possibility that Russia had already begun using cluster munitions against Ukraine by calling it “potentially a war crime.” Even so, U.S. cluster munitions have arrived in Ukraine, and are now being used by Kyiv (Washington Post7/20/23).

Advocating for escalation, a Posteditorial headlined “NATO’s Annual Summit Could Define a Decade of Western Security” (7/8/23) argued that NATO needs to “step up their game” in order to meet the threat of Putin’s regime in Moscow. It called Biden’s decision to arm Ukraine with cluster munitions a “tough but correct call.” The editorial board explained:

Their use is banned by some major NATO allies, because dud bombs left behind on the battlefield pose a threat to civilians. But Russia has used them intensively in Ukraine, and the Biden administration is legally required to export only shells that have a very low dud rate.

“Some” major allies? Out of the 31 NATO member states, the U.S. finds company with only seven others in its refusal to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions. More than two-thirds of NATO countries, including “major” allies like Canada, Britain, Germany, and France—and every European country west of Poland—have signed.

The editorial board cites the fact that the cluster munitions being sent by the U.S. have a “very low dud rate,” and will therefore pose less of a risk to civilians. The Pentagon claims that the munitions it is sending have a dud rate of 2.35%; even if that’s accurate, it exceeds the 1% limit the Pentagon itself considers acceptable.

According to The New York Times’ John Ismay (7/7/23), a failure rate of 2.35% “would mean that for every two shells fired, about three unexploded grenades would be left scattered on the target area.” There is reason to believe that the true dud rate may be much higher—possibly exceeding 14%, by the Pentagon’s own reckoning.

Ends justify the means?

Another Post op-ed, by columnist Max Boot (7/11/23), headlined “Why Liberals Protesting Cluster Munitions for Ukraine Are Wrong,” illustrates the “ends justify the means” rhetoric so pervasive in discourse over the war in Ukraine.

Boot acknowledged the devastating impact of cluster munitions, noting that “in Laos alone, at least 25,000 people have been killed or injured by unexploded ordnance since the US bombing ended.” He added:

Such concerns led more than 100 nations—but not the United States, Russia, or Ukraine—to join the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions abolishing the use of these weapons.

Of course, the United States is notorious for isolating itself from the rest of the world when it comes to the signing of international treaties—as the Council on Foreign Relations, where Mr. Boot is a senior fellow, has shown. The U.S. signed but failed to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (which has 178 state parties) and the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (which has 189 state parties). It refused to even sign the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty (which has 164 state parties).

Boot cited the probability that the dud rate of U.S. cluster munitions is much higher than the given 2.35%, but immediately downplayed this fact on the basis that

Ukraine’s democratically elected leaders, whose relatives, friends, and neighbors are in the line of fire, are more mindful of minimizing Ukrainian casualties than are self-appointed humanitarians in the West watching the war on television.

In other words, the Ukraine government should be allowed to decide how many Ukrainian civilians are acceptable to kill. This is a dubious principle even when you aren’t talking about a war against separatists; in the areas where the weapons are likely to be used, a large minority to a majority of the population identifies as ethnically Russian. Is the Iraqi government the best judge of how many Kurdish civilians are all right to kill?

“Using cluster munitions has the potential to save the lives of many Ukrainian soldiers,” Boot claimed, despite the fact that these same U.S. munitions have a history of killing both civilians and U.S. personnel alike.

Moreover, Boot argued,

cluster munitions remain a lawful instrument of warfare for countries that haven’t signed the 2008 convention, and Kyiv has shown itself a responsible steward of all the Western weaponry it has received.

Setting aside international norms, even countries who have not joined the cluster munitions convention must respect the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas. That makes cluster munitions used in such areas illegal—yet “responsible steward” Ukraine has already used its own cluster munitions in the city of Izium, predictably resulting in civilian casualties (Human Rights Watch, 7/6/23).

‘Running out of options’

Meanwhile, Post columnist David Ignatius (7/8/23) approvingly quoted National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan touting the deployment of cluster munitions as giving Ukraine a “wider window” for success, with no mention of any arguments against them. Ignatius later stated in his biweekly Q&A (7/17/23) that he was compelled by the Ukrainians’ reported “moral argument” for cluster bombs.

The Post’s sole “Counterpoint” piece (7/7/23) on cluster munitions, authored by Sen. Jeff Merkley and former Sen. Patrick Leahy, justly pointed out the “unsupportable moral and political price” of supplying Kyiv with cluster munitions. Unfortunately, the Post didn’t seem to have much time for such considerations, with the only other traces of criticism within the opinion section being found amidst the letters to the editor.

This was true even months before Biden made his decision. A March piece by columnist Josh Rogin (3/2/23) framed the weapons as a sort of necessary evil as the Ukrainian forces are “running out of options.” Rogin referred to concerns from human rights groups and deemed the use of cluster munitions as “not to be taken lightly,” but did not dwell on these concerns, arguing, similar to Boot, that “more innocent lives will be saved if Ukrainian forces can kill more invading Russians faster.” Rogin concluded: “Because it is their lives on the line, it is their risk to take, and we should honor their request.”

In total, the Post has published five pieces in its opinion section (including Ignatius’ Q&A) that take a direct stance in favor of arming Ukraine with U.S. cluster munitions, and only one opposed to it. Meanwhile, a recent poll by Quinnipiac University concluded that 51% of Americans disapprove of the president’s decision, while only 39% approve (The Hill7/19/23).

With so much preference for escalation and so little toward military restraint, one thing seems clear: There aren’t many Einsteins in The Washington Post op-ed section.

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Brandon Warner is a FAIR intern for the Summer of 2023. He is a graduate student, currently pursuing a multinational MA in Global Studies through the University of Freiburg, FLACSO Argentina and Chulalongkorn University.