I said last week that Richard Cohen had made the case not for journalistic freedom but for journalistic impunity. Cohen was demanding that journalists not be held responsible for the consequences of their leaks. What is important, to Richard Cohen, is that he not be denied that good tables in restaurants that come from being an obedient leak recipient. It doesn't matter what collateral damage he causes in that pursuit of the good table.
Jim Hoagland, I suspect, is also hoping to make the case for journalistic impunity. Only he's not so much hoping to retain access to the good tables. Rather, he's hoping to prevent people from looking at his work with the kind of scrutiny Judy's work has received. Because he knows that his and Judy's Iraq work look to have been dictated by the same assignment editor. Hoagland, like Miller, was peddling the stories his DOD/Cheney sources wanted him to peddle. Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that his his defense of the culture of leaking tries to resucitate the threat of WMDs.
An even larger threat to a reasoned and comprehensive debate on the American agenda is emerging from the misuse of the Plame affair as a weapon of political and bureaucratic warfare in Washington. The leak case is becoming one more stand-in for a "smoking gun" needed to show that Bush and Vice President Cheney knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that they based the war on lies.
The case we made, he seems to be saying, was a serious one. We can be excused if we took that serious threat too seriously, if we didn't exercise enough critical judgement. No harm no foul.
I first realized that Hoagland had been drinking out of the same Kool-Aid bowl as Judy when I read the profile of Chalabi he wrote on April 9 2003 (a few days after DOD flew Chalabi and his militia to Nasariyah to pre-empt a State-funded exile militia). Hoagland's hero-worship and credulity exceed that of even Judy.
You are hearing a lot about Ahmed Chalabi right now. Much of it is not true. Worse, you are not hearing what you need to know about a man who is neither an Iraqi puppet for U.S. forces nor a conniving political fortune hunter taking the Bush administration for a ride.
Who is Chalabi? The antiwar, anti-Bush, anti-change-in-Iraq crowd spreads the puppet version to smear this Iraqi exile leader, while State Department and CIA senior officials peddle the fortune-hunter image. Both groups use Chalabi as a dartboard to serve their own interests or those of their Arab clients. Their objections reveal more about their politics than his.
Hoagland goes on to tell a tearjerker about how Chalabi's interests in Iraq amount to wanting to bury his family members in Iraq. Perhaps that's part of it. But I hope with the perspective of two years and one double-agent-leak-to-Iran later, Hoagland can see that he was the one underestimating Chalabi, not the antiwar, anti-Bush, anti-change-in-Iraq (as if) crowd.
Even before Hoagland wrote this profile, however, he was intervening in the DOD feud against the CIA and State. Whereas Judy parroted INC attacks against the CIA-backed Saad al-Janabi, Hoagland waxes philosophical, suggesting the CIA is not-yet-reformed-enough to intervene in choosing leaders for Iraq.
But the agency remains ill-suited to choosing, promoting and installing leaders who can be trusted to keep their promises -- first of all to their own people. That is a job for the Iraqi people, and particularly for those among them who have a long history of fighting for democracy.
Don't be fooled, though, into believing Hoagland is advocating democracy led by Iraqis in Iraq. Rather, he's making a (subtle) case for the INC. It gets less subtle when he criticizes the CIA and State for cutting off funding to Chalabi's group.
It joined the State Department's Near East Bureau in working to cut off U.S. funds for the Iraqi National Congress and other anti-Baathist movements that (rightly) urged a long process of starting the political education of the population and a low-intensity conflict against the regime.
Hoagland helped advance Chalabi's and DOD's interest again when he wrote an ardent column supporting de-Baathification. In late April, Hoagland writes a case for de-Baathification that relies on Free Iraqi Forces (Chalabi's militia) and Bernard Lewis as sources to justify his case. Which is not to say Hoagland doesn't make a compelling argument. It does, however, suggest who was asking him to make such a compelling argument.
Finally, Hoagland wrote a second profile of Chalabi in June, depicting him as the reigning leader of Iraq, accepting the tribute of any and all.
Chalabi sits at noon in a spacious reception hall, listening to a group of robed tribal sheiks from southern Iraq express support for the INC. A nuclear scientist who once worked for the regime sits waiting for a chance to lay out plans for a new science ministry.
Bobbing through the door next comes a wave of roly-poly Baghdadi businessmen in polyester suits to talk about the economy. Behind them are three Sudanese immigrants in jeans who are forming an association of political independents. And so it goes long after dusk, with visits from the Iranian and Turkish ambassadors thrown in for intrigue.
This is a scene that the Iraq experts at the State Department and the CIA said could never happen. They have consistently painted Chalabi and his organization as not having any local "roots."
I should point out the logic flaw here, where Hoagland argues that a nuclear scientist who appears to have been an exile (since Saddam didn't allow his nuclear scientists to just quit), three Sudanese immigrants, and Iranian and Turkish ambassadors prove his "roots" in Iraq.
No matter. Hoagland's goal here, in addition to saying "I told you so" to CIA and State was to depict Chalabi as the natural choice to lead Iraq, at a time when Bremer was still weighing whom to name to the Iraq Governing Council. It also probably helped to counter more skeptical portrayals some other WaPo journalists were writing.
Perhaps Hoagland is getting more material directly from Chalabi at the expense of DOD. But he's drawing on the same faction to make the same arguments. Admittedly, Hoagland tells his stories with much more intelligence and originality than Judy. But much of the time, he seems to have been reading from the same script she was. Much of the time, he was just another tactical weapon DOD used in its battle against CIA and State to control the reconstruction of Iraq.
No wonder Hoagland feels threatened by the legal attention Judy has been getting.