Dear Mr. Ignatius,
I have a question about this statement from your Oct. 28 Washington Post op-ed "Walking Into Iran's Trap": "Bush administration officials, for all their bellicose rhetoric, still hope that diplomatic pressure -- backed by ever-tighter economic sanctions -- will persuade Iran to compromise."
Is this conclusion based on anything other than assurances from Bush administration officials? Multi-sourced reports on this topic from three of our country’s most revered award-winning investigative journalists - Seymour Hersh, Robert Parry and James Bamford - have concluded just the opposite. Are you saying they and all of their sources are wrong? Not to mention several other reports, including those from McClatchy and The Guardian? Even your own paper has reported the contrary (Peter Baker, Dafna Linzer and Thomas E. Ricks, April 2006):
"The Bush team is looking at the viability of airstrikes simply because many think airstrikes are the only real option ahead," said Kurt Campbell, a former Pentagon policy official.
U.S. officials continue to pursue the diplomatic course but privately seem increasingly skeptical that it will succeed.
[Retired Air Force Col. Sam] Gardiner [who led war games with Iran as a target] concluded that a military attack would not work, but said he believes the United States seems to be moving inexorably toward it. "The Bush administration is very close to being left with only the military option," he said.
In the Oct. 8 op-ed “‘A Way Out’ for Iran,” you similarly claim, “If you read the liberal blogosphere, and even the stately New Yorker magazine, you get the impression that the Bush administration is itching to drop a bomb on Iran. But talking with senior administration officials this week, I hear a different line.”
Though, of course, much evidence refuting your assertion, some of which is cited above, comes not merely from Mr. Hersh of The New Yorker and the liberal blogosphere (and just for the record, no evidence I’ve provided here is sourced from the liberal blogosphere). Rather, it comes from experienced investigative journalists, intelligence and foreign policy experts, and military insiders - from sources both inside and outside the Bush administration. For you to claim otherwise is either careless, naïve or intellectually dishonest.
So, for instance, are you telling us Cheney and his inner circle – run roughshod by über-hawk Chief of Staff David Addington (aka Cheney’s Cheney) – sincerely hope that diplomatic pressure will work? Or is that why you refer to "Bush administration officials" in your Oct. 28 column, rather than, say, "the White House" or "the Bush administration"? Since "officials" is plural, is it safe to assume, then, that at least two people working for the Bush administration want diplomacy to work? And wouldn’t relaying the rough percentage of administration officials who support diplomacy, in addition to their rank, be a much greater indicator of the administration’s genuine diplomatic efforts (that is to say, if any truly exists)?
In failing to provide such critical information while framing this point as you do, I’m sure you can see how readers might be misled by your statement, believing instead that the Bush administration on the whole - or at least the majority of its members - honestly hopes diplomacy will work and military action can be avoided. Or are you actually asserting that Bush administration officials, including the President and Vice President and their inner circles, are unified in their desire for diplomacy's success with regards to Iran?
I'm also sure you recall how widely the mainstream media reported that the Bush White House was doing everything it could diplomatically to avoid war with Iraq - in essence, often parroting administration talking points. Tragically, as we’re all aware, that turned out to be false. And young American men and women and the Iraqi people are suffering the consequences. If key members of the Bush administration (i.e. the highest levels of its leadership) are pushing for military action against Iran, can you see how your frame might then be dangerously misleading? And how it might be used once again by the Bush White House to, in the end, help wage war?
After all, as with Iraq, an appearance of exhausting diplomatic action is prerequisite to an attack.
In your op-ed “Red Flags and Regrets” (April 27, 2004), in which you assess media coverage leading up to the Iraq invasion, you wrote:
In a sense, the media were victims of their own professionalism. Because there was little criticism of the war from prominent Democrats and foreign policy analysts, journalistic rules meant we shouldn't create a debate on our own. And because major news organizations knew the war was coming, we spent a lot of energy in the last three months before the war preparing to cover it -- arranging for reporters to be embedded with military units, purchasing chemical and biological weapons gear and setting up forward command posts in Kuwait that mirrored those of the U.S. military.
In this illuminating statement (though not in the manner you intended), you seem to confuse professionalism with toadyism and journalistic rules with unethical corporate conformity. “Journalistic rules meant we shouldn’t create a debate on our own” is utterly antithetical to the tenets of sound journalism - to holding our elected leaders accountable, proactively seeking the truth and cutting through spin, and informing the public to the best of your ability.
If great journalists of the past and present followed your interpretation of “journalistic rules,” the world would be a much darker place.
Edward R. Murrow wouldn’t have stood up to and taken down Senator Joseph McCarthy. Walter Cronkite, with a Democratic president in office and Republicans overwhelmingly in favor of remaining in Vietnam, might not have declared the war “unwinnable” on national network news. And the names “Woodward and Bernstein” would conjure images of a law firm instead of the investigative reporters who cracked Watergate (in your own paper, incidentally). We still might be clueless to the My Lai massacre and its cover-up revealed by Seymour Hersh, the Iran-Contra scandal broken by Robert Parry and Brian Barger, or, more recently, George W. Bush’s unconstitutional use of presidential signing statements (Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe) or the administration-sanctioned extraordinary rendition program (Dana Priest, your current Washington Post colleague).
Such an interpretation of journalistic standards, as stated in your April 2004 op-ed, might well be acceptable by the Soviet-era Pravda - or, say, in Iran today - but not by any self-respecting news outlet in a democracy.
And not in an America that wishes to preserve its liberty.