Friday, October 14, 2005

JUAN COLE'S ARTICLE about Judith Miller in today's edition of Salon is a must-read. As always, Cole's take on the Miller debacle is just that much more nuanced, thoughtful, and intelligent than almost anyone else's.

Cole disagrees with the widespread view on the left that Miller is a right-winger who twists the facts to fit her neoconservative ideology. He doesn't think she is a neocon at all.

Miller clearly agrees with the neocons on some subjects. But she is too knowledgeable about the Middle East and Islam, too evenhanded on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and too much of a liberal on domestic U.S. issues, to be considered a neoconservative herself. A veteran Middle East correspondent (she headed the Times' Cairo bureau) who speaks some Arabic, she had a more balanced and nuanced view of the region than the neocons -- at least until 9/11. She probably has more in common with "liberal hawks" such as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman and Harvard professor Michael Ignatieff, who were driven to support a U.S. war on Iraq by fears of Saddam's weapons, a belief that military action could end Arab/Muslim terrorism, and impatience with the glacial pace of political reform in the Middle East.
Miller's trajectory on major issues departs significantly from that of the neoconservatives. Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense 2001-2005, immediately regretted that the U.S. did not go on to Baghdad in 1991, whereas as late as 1993 Miller saw Iraq as defanged. In 1996, in the now-notorious paper titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Defending the Realm," Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser, among others, advised then Israeli candidate for prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu to scrap the Oslo Peace Accords and refuse to withdraw from the Occupied Territories, as well as to support a war against Iraq. In contrast, Miller supported Oslo and stressed that it was important that both Israelis and Palestinians felt secure so as to attract investment. As late as 1998 she was unsure what to do about Iraq, sometimes supporting bombing raids but at others raising questions about what options the U.S. had in the aftermath.

Yet over time Miller came to subscribe to key neocon ideas -- and began increasingly to rely on neocons and their allies for sources. As a June 2004 profile of Miller in New York magazine makes clear, perhaps the pivotal moment in this evolution came in the '90s, when Miller began focusing on the link between terrorism and WMD. She was particularly interested in al-Qaida's plans to acquire WMD. Her work on this subject put her in contact with Ahmad Chalabi, whose party line she began to recite as early as 1998. Before 9/11, her beat made her look obsessed; afterward, as the piece's author, Franklin Foer, notes, "she seemed more like Cassandra, the only one who'd been right. And this fact gave her tremendous power at the paper."

The way Cole describes it, some kind of weird circular dynamic developed between Miller and her right-wing sources. As Miller started to get almost all of her information from loony right-wing Iraqi exiles and hard-core Bush administration neocons, they started to think of her first when looking for ways to put their agendas out there. Gradually, professional boundaries began to get fuzzy.

Suspicions that Miller had crossed an ethical line and grown too close to her sources increased after the waiver letter she received from Libby was disclosed. That letter ended with this bizarre, highly personal passage: "You went into jail in the summer. It is fall now. You will have stories to cover -- Iraqi elections and suicide bombers, biological threats and the Iranian nuclear program. Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them. Come back to work -- and life. Until then, you will remain in my thoughts and prayers. With admiration, Scooter Libby."

Talk about creepy.


The Heretik said...

. . . professional boundaries began to get fuzzy would be an understatement.

Sangroncito said...

Very interesting read.

Kathy said...

. . . professional boundaries began to get fuzzy would be an understatement.

Ironic understatement. :)

Kathy said...

Thanks, sangroncito!