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Man knows not his time

Culture | Michael Kelly wanted a second Gulf War-and wound up its highest profile casualty.

Issue: "Baghdad set free," April 19, 2003

Michael Kelly wanted a second Gulf War-and wound up its highest profile casualty. The 46-year-old Washington pundit died in a Humvee accident while traveling embedded with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq.

The contrarian liberal was editor-at-large for The Atlantic Monthly and a columnist for The Washington Post. While readers may not have known Mr. Kelly's name, he was a tribune of the hive of newsmakers, politicians, and journalists that swarms around the Beltway.

His renown hit its peak during President Clinton's scandals. As editor of The New Republic during the 1990s, Mr. Kelly turned the liberal weekly against the Democratic president. He called the Clintons "President Me and his first lady, the Contesse de Greed" and said special interests were pushing his party down "the path to minority status." He referred to the Clinton legacy as "one of a bottomless and endless selfishness that corrupted whatever it touched." Such attacks on Mr. Clinton led to his 1997 purge by owner Martin Peretz.

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Mr. Kelly's last months saw him launching a new campaign: to oust Saddam Hussein. He argued that the 9/11 disasters and Saddam's support for Palestinian suicide bombers justified the war. He had emerged as a national figure by covering the first Iraqi war as a freelancer. He wrote a book about that conflict, Martyr's Day, in 1994.

The liberal journalist was deeply critical of fellow liberals who opposed war with "an enemy that represented nearly every evil that liberalism has ever stood against." He criticized liberal protesters who chose "Islamofascists" over America and who made common cause with communist-front groups like International ANSWER: "The left marches with those who would maintain in power the leading oppressors of humanity in the world."

Despite his iconoclasm, Mr. Kelly was a product of Washington and the media. Born in 1957, he was the son of two journalists: reporter Thomas Kelly and syndicated columnist Marguerite Kelly. He married CBS producer Madelyn Greenberg and left behind two sons, Tom, 6, and Jack, 3.

He spent his final days filing dispatches from the Gulf. He was one of 600 journalists embedded with U.S. forces-and the first American reporter to die on duty. (NBC's David Bloom died of a blood clot later in the week.) Mr. Kelly died with a U.S. soldier when their Humvee went into a canal.

A month ago he told ABC News he was not excessively concerned about safety: "There is some element of danger, but you're surrounded by an Army, literally, who is going to try very hard to keep you out of danger."

Mr. Kelly's final Washington Post column described an Army task force as it captured a bridge across the Euphrates River. "On the western side of the bridge, Lt. Col. Ernest 'Rock' Marcone, commander of Task Force 3-69, stood in the sand by the side of the road, smoking a cigar and drinking a cup of coffee," he wrote. "Marcone's soldiers say he deeply likes to win, and he seemed quietly happy."

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