Well, just read Sy Hersh’s new piece and must admit I was disappointed. I found almost nothing original in either content or analysis and believe the piece could have been written by piecing together already very public information.
I was not going to post on it, until I heard Wolff Blitzer call the piece “explosive” this morning on CNN. Perhaps the only gaseous discharge I heard was the allegation concerning Negroponte’s motivations:
I was subsequently told by the two government consultants and the former senior intelligence official that the echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State. (Negroponte declined to comment.)
The former senior intelligence official also told me that Negroponte did not want a repeat of his experience in the Reagan Administration, when he served as Ambassador to Honduras. “Negroponte said, ‘No way. I’m not going down that road again, with the N.S.C. running operations off the books, with no finding.’ ” (In the case of covert C.I.A. operations, the President must issue a written finding and inform Congress.) Negroponte stayed on as Deputy Secretary of State, he added, because “he believes he can influence the government in a positive way.”
This is absurd puffery and a little reverse engineering leads one to believe that Hersh completely got played by his “sources” on this issue. This is one of the two problems I have with Hersh’s work as it often takes bureaucratic infighting as evidence of the direction of US policy. The blatant ass-kissing of Negroponte suggests that the source may have been Negroponte himself or one of his close aides in Foggy Bottom or supporters on the Hill. Of course, I have no idea, but Negroponte, as the intelligence czar, likely encountered significant antagonism from the DOD and thus one must understand this “information” in this context. To go from that rather quotidian reality to the Contras is ridiculous and the ass-kissing should make all very suspicious. To be sure, many on the Hill and at the CIA and State have bureaucratic reasons to talk with Hersh, but I just wonder how far this really get us with respect to US policy in the Middle East. I agree that the Pentagon has usurped the CIA with respect to covert operations and intelligency, but this is not a new story and evidence can be gathered on this point without polishing Negroponte’s apple.
I would also say that his interview with Nasrallah was really disappointing, or at least what he chose to include in the interview. To be sure, it seems he only included quotes to fit his thesis, but this has the effect of making Nasrallah look like a wild conspiracy theorist, something he is decidedly not:
I can assure you that the Saudi kingdom will also be divided, and the issue will reach to North African states. There will be small ethnic and confessional states,” he said. “In other words, Israel will be the most important and the strongest state in a region that has been partitioned into ethnic and confessional states that are in agreement with each other. This is the new Middle East.”
For me this is inexcusable, because Nasrallah does not give interviews to American journalists, so when he does, it is an irreducible opportunity that should not be missed.
I would add that Hersh’s descision to quote Armitage and Baer on Hizbullah is a bit ridiculous as their thoughts remain haunted by memories of the 1980s and they expose themselves as idiots when talking about a Hizbullah that no longer exists. To paraphrase and answer Baer, the dog did not bark because it died over a decade ago.
I would add that one part of Hersh’s thesis makes no sense. It has been widely understood that the CIA has been deeply involved in Lebanon, because the activities have been more political and financial, than military. This reality does not fit his contention about the DOD takeover of intelligence or the reporting requirements. I would agree in the case of Iran, but in Lebanon, this seems off the mark.
Again, I would say I was disappointed with the piece. He can do and has done better. I would add that it is a bit odd that the piece works mostly as a summary of the last 10 months, when I had understood that Remnick, his editor, had wanted a more newsy Hersh for the pages of the New Yorker. The quote retread is not good enough given the rapid pace of events on the ground.
Perhaps most distressing is Hersh’s take on the militant Salafi groups in Lebanon. There is some truth to what he says here, but I had hoped that the time he spent in Lebanon would allow him to understand a bit more of the complexity of the situation (his television appearance made me cringe). Sadly, it seems he is just as susceptible to generalities and misrecognition as the Beltway bureaucrats who drive his stories. To be sure, this bit is designed for American audiences, but without the proper local context, it falls flat. In sum, imperial muckraking may be a noble profession, but the full story (elucidating domestic and international connections) is not here and thus one feels the author is mirroring his sources by engaging in a narrowly targeted polemic. Oh, well …