Thursday, May 8, 2008

Rubin: In RC/E did David Ignatius a Stately Pleasure Dome Decree

I never paid much attention to David Ignatius. One of the luxuries of living in New York is not having to take the editorial page of the Washington Post too seriously. I did not even have a clear idea of what his views or journalistic habits were. But then I appeared on the NewsHour with him last week. I went into the studio thinking I would just give my analysis of the situation in Afghanistan after the attack on the Mujahidin Victory Day Celebration in Kabul, but instead found myself being asked to respond to his inane repetitions of PR handouts from the Defense Department. Scott Horton of Harper's characterized Ignatius' first article, a comprehensive cliche-ridden report on his one-week embed, as "Opium Dreams."

I was truly astounded last Sunday to read his second article -- Oh Person from Porlock where art thou? Couldst not have interrupted this opium-induced orientalist phantasie before such lines as:
JALALABAD, Afghanistan -- The most interesting discovery during a visit to this city where Osama bin Laden planted his flag in 1996 is that al-Qaeda seems to have all but disappeared. The group is on the run, too, in Iraq, and that raises some interesting questions about how to pursue this terrorist enemy.
Somebody should have told Ignatius that Usama left Jalalabad in 1996, in order to move to Qandahar, to be closer to Mulla Muhammad 'Umar, leader of the Taliban, and that he moved again in December 2001, this time to the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies of Pakistan, where he has re-established a secure base of operations. Did Ignatius even bother to read last July's National Intelligence Estimate on "The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland?" One key judgment:
Al-Qaida is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safe haven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership. Although we have discovered only a handful of individuals in the United States with ties to al-Qaida senior leadership since 9/11, we judge that al-Qaida will intensify its efforts to put operatives here.

• As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment.
It is of course legitimate to disagree with NIEs, by, for example, questioning their evidential basis, looking for evidence of bias, presenting contrary evidence... But on the basis of a one-week embed in which a "journalist" discovers something that everybody who cares to already knows -- that Bin Laden is not in Afghanistan?

And Ignatius' solution for the problem of al-Qaida in FATA? Also lifted directly from a DoD handout:
The essential mission in combating al-Qaeda now is to adopt in Pakistan the tactics that are working in Iraq and Afghanistan. This means alliances with tribal warlords to bring economic development to the isolated mountain valleys of the FATA region in exchange for their help in security. And it means joint operations involving U.S. and Pakistani special forces to chase al-Qaeda militants as they retreat deeper into the mountains.
Military action with warlords plus economic aid -- not a word about Pakistan's democratic government, its policy positions, or the issue of governance in FATA. A U.S.-led counter-terrorist offensive in the Tribal Agencies -- actually I think I have unjustly maligned the Department of Defense by calling this idea a DoD handout. I have discussed this issue with a number of senior US military and civilian defense officials, and all of them show greater understanding of the situation than Ignatius.

What exactly do you have to write to be discredited in this country?

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