The Washington Post’s senior diplomatic columnist, David Ignatius, has done it again. He has a well-earned reputation as an apologist for the Central Intelligence Agency and a defender of increased defense spending and the newly-created Space Force. Now, Ignatius has added a new plaque to his personal Hall of Fame—Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In an oped for the Post on May 27, Ignatius has defended Pompeo’s fund-raising dinners at the lavish ceremonial rooms of the Department of State, which incidentally was one of the issues being investigated by the State Department’s Inspector General, Steve Linick.
Linick will not be around to complete his investigation, as we all know, because Pompeo requested that the president fire him. Donald Trump was glad to do so, and merely wondered why it took Pompeo so long to ask. Trump provided no reason for firing Linick and failed to honor the 30-day waiting period for such actions, both of which are required by law. The mainstream media believe the laws that created the office of the Inspector General in 1978 are “murky,” but there is no question that both the president and the secretary of state violated the laws. Department of State regulations, moreover, prohibit the use of Diplomatic Reception Rooms for functions that have a “partisan, political, or sectarian” purpose. More than half of the invitees were from the corporate and media worlds.
Pompeo started hosting these dinners two years ago, when he was considering leaving his post to run for the Senate in his home state of Kansas. These elite dinners are funded by U.S. taxpayers, but, in this case, the major purpose was to identify and recruit donors for this campaign, and to impress conservative media figures such as Ignatius who were central figures at these dinners. Ignatius’ column provided the very response that Pompeo was seeking. First of all, it carried the headline “Pompeo’s dinners are no scandal.” Second, Ignatius challenged the notion that there was any misuse of public funds. Fortunately, the Congress or the Office of the Inspector General will have the final word on these issues.
Inspector General Linick obviously didn’t agree with Ignatius, nor did members of the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees who have requested documents related to the “Madison Dinners,” including guest lists and any ethics guidance Pompeo may have sought. Pompeo has confirmed he requested the firing of Linick, but denied that he was aware of any investigations that targeted him. This is hardly believable because Pompeo was well aware of the opposition within the department to his misuse of staffers to perform personal errands and, more importantly, his efforts to circumvent the congressional ban on continued weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.
Ignatius presumably anticipated criticism of his attendance at the Madison dinner because he proclaimed to “tell the truth, upside and down. This is journalism, not war.” Over the years, however, Ignatius has defended the CIA’s political assassination program, and argued that no investigation was necessary because “nobody had been killed.” He never condemned the CIA training of death squads in Central America, including Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador. He never deplored the CIA’s Phoenix operation during the Vietnam War, when the agency ran a paramilitary campaign of interrogation, torture, and assassination that targeted many innocent victims. And he never favored accountability for agency operatives who manned the secret prisons and conducted the program of torture and abuse, such as the current CIA director Gina Haspel.
Ignatius even echoed the views of many of these operatives who dismissed the stewardship of former CIA director John Brennan and praised Trump’s appointment of Pompeo as CIA director in 2017. Ignatius noted the CIA’s unlawful activities during the Iraq War and the Global War on Terror, but argued that any period of discovery, let alone accountability,would weaken the CIA and cause serious morale problems. When Trump held his controversial public appearance at CIA headquarters in January 2017 on his first full day in office, Ignatius noted the visit was “well-received by the worker bees” and that the “country (including the CIA) will have to get used to” Trump’s “rambling braggadocio.”
Ignatius’s record belies the very claim of telling the “truth, upside and down.” It is noteworthy that, on the very day the Washington Post published his column, the New York Times’s leading columnist, Thomas Friedman, headlined his oped “The Worst Secretary of State Ever.”