Somehow I missed New York Sun journalist Eli Lake's op-ed column earlier this week pooh-poohing NYU professor Barnett Rubin's startling suggestion that the Vice President's office was trying to take the debate on Iran in the direction of war. Mr. Lake's snarky opinion column (and when did journalists start writing regular opinion pieces, anyway?) leaves a lot to be desired. Lake ascribes numerous claims to Rubin that Rubin never made, and has certain problems with sketchily leaked tidbits of his own that bear on his standing to judge others.
First, Lake introduces a claim as Rubin's that Rubin never made. Lake's second sentence is this, characterizing Rubin's claims:
Any day now divisions of American tanks will be rolling toward Tehran as President Bush and the neoconservatives plunge the world into yet another disastrous war.
This would be an easy allegation to deflate, except Rubin never claimed that a ground war was imminent. Readers can view Rubin's post here and decide whether Lake accurately characterized his claims. The terms "tank" or "ground war" don't appear, far as I can see.
Mr. Lake appears to fabricate another supposed view of Rubin's.
[T[he charge from Mr. Rubin amounts to an accusation of bad faith. In Mr. Rubin's world, you see, Michael Ledeen, Newt Gingrich, or William Kristol do not write about Iran's support for confessional murderers in Iraq because they have weighed the evidence, considered the regime's history, or analyzed the testimony of experts.
No, anything these people say about Iran in September will be because Dick Cheney gave instructions, as if anyone who speaks plainly about Iranian supported terrorism or the regime's nuclear-bomb making reflects a hidden agenda — for the Left it's either oil or Israel, so take your pick.
This, again, bears no resemblance to the actual post that Prof. Rubin wrote. He didn't say anything about Israel, anything about oil, or anything about bad faith. A rather less conspiratorial reading of Rubin is that he says nothing about the good faith of the above commentators, but rather thinks that their influence on U.S. national security policy over the past several years has been disastrous, that replicating their strategic malfeasance in Iran would be more disastrous, and that he hopes it doesn't happen. As Barnett himself writes in the end of his post:
I hesitated before posting this. I don't want to spread alarmist rumors. I don't want to lessen the pressure on the Ahmadinejad government in Tehran. But there are too many signs of another irresponsible military adventure from the Cheney-Bush administration for me just to dismiss these reports. I am putting them into the public sphere in the hope of helping to mobilize opposition to a policy that would further doom the efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq and burden our country and the people of the Middle East with yet another unstoppable fountain of bloodshed.
The only imputation of bad faith is from Eli Lake.
Then, Lake moves from attributing to Rubin claims and views that Rubin doesn't state and doesn't seem to hold, to accusing him of making a similar claim to one that Seymour Hersh made previously and pointing out that Mr. Hersh's prediction was wrong. I don't think Mr. Lake wants to start lining up the predictions of people who agree with him about foreign policy against those of the rest of us and assessing them side-by-side for accuracy. But in any event Lake should know enough that criticizing one person for having bad information and then attempting to use that fact to discredit someone else sounds an awful lot like the bad faith that he falsely accuses Professor Rubin of ascribing to people who agree with him.
Finally, I suspect Eli Lake may want to be careful about pointing out how frequently false information insinuates itself into debates about security policy. Take, for one example, the July article authored by Mr. Lake titled "Iran Is Found To Be a Lair of Al Qaeda."
In that story, Lake published a claim purportedly leaked to him that the National Intelligence Estimate judged that one of two senior al Qaeda leadership councils “meets regularly in eastern Iran.” Lake wrote that “there is little disagreement that a branch of al Qaeda's leadership operates in Iran, [but] the intelligence community diverges on the extent to which the hosting of the senior leaders represents a policy of the regime in Tehran or the rogue actions of Iran's Quds Force, the terrorist support units that report directly to Iran's supreme leader.”
Unfortunately for Mr. Lake, the story was tersely refuted later that day by the National Intelligence Officer for Transnational Threats, Edward Gistaro. Asked at a National Press Club briefing whether the judgment Lake described was in the final draft report, Gistaro replied “No, it is not. I don’t think it was ever in the draft…. I read [the Sun article] this morning, and I thought, ‘I don’t know where this comes from.’” The transcript of the conference describes “laughter” in the briefing room after this revelation.
In the wake of such developments, and particularly in the wake of easily-drawn analogies to recent controversies, I think those of us who are concerned about the prospect of attacking Iran can be forgiven for at least a twinge of trepidation.