The Corner

“I Wish I Kept My Mouth Shut,” the Prequel

Cliff yesterday pointed out Washington Post military correspondent Tom Ricks’ comments on CNN that, according to some of his military sources, “Israel purposely has left pockets of Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon, because as long as they’re being rocketed, they can continue to have a sort of moral equivalency in their operations in Lebanon.”  Ridiculous, of course, a sign of bad sources, bad judgment, or both.

But there’s a larger question out there of the blurring line between journalists as reporters and journalists as analysts, and whether it’s good for the profession.  My favorite example is from The New Republic on November 10, 1979.  In an article entitled, “Iran’s Shaky Theocracy,” Steven Erlanger, now reporting from the Middle East for the New York Times, opined:

If there are long-term bets to be placed, they should be placed on the [Iranian] left, itself divided, but which is organizing among the working class and the disaffected, especially in the oil fields.  Though there is a significant historical animus, and though at the moment the left has no strong ties to Moscow, it would be naïve to think that none might ever develop.  In any case, after the mullahs have been thrown off, the left will be the only alternative with mass appeal.

Hindsight is 20-20, and I’ve made mistakes, too, of course.  But Erlanger’s blast from the past—as well as Ricks’ comments from this past weekend—reflect a greater problem among many journalists when it comes to the Middle East.  Too often they highlight the political and discount the ideological, especially when analyzing the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies.  They underestimate the difficulties and dangers posed by Islamist militias and states.  All this talk in the last decade of reformers and pragmatists versus hardliners was a red herring, because the ideology to which all subscribed overshadowed their factionalism.  The presence of divisions, whether in Hamas, Hizbullah, or the Islamic Republic is irrelevant.  It may be comforting to think the Islamic Republic of Iran and Hizbullah represent political problems that can be dealt with through diplomacy alone, or that ordinary citizens and civil society can be empowered without moral if not financial support, but reality isn’t about comfort.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly.

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