Goodness Gracious, David Ignatius: Why Do You Want More War?

Photograph Source: Ittmust – CC BY 2.0

No one in the mainstream media takes better dictation than David Ignatius, the leading columnist at the Washington Post on international security.  Ignatius gets briefings from the Central Intelligence Agency and immediately prepares a column echoing the CIA’s case for aiding a Ukrainian insurgency in response to any Russian invasion.  He agrees with the hawks in the Biden administration that Ukraine can be turned into a “porcupine” in order to stymie any Russian occupation force.  Ignatius concludes that the “Ukrainian army is better trained and equipped; the population is more united against Russian interference; and the United States and NATO are ready to provide weapons and training for a long battle of resistance.”  Haven’t we witnessed this song and dance before?

Ignatius engages the commandant of the Marine Corps, General David Berger, and files a column seconding Berger’s claim of success in creating a “force of the future, not the past.”  Berger contends that his Marines have the systems and capabilities to “combat a modern, high-tech rival such as China.”  Then Ignatius spends time with some of Berger’s senior commanders and echoes their claims for newer systems that are “small, elusive, and sometimes unmanned” and harder-to-find.  Ignatius ignores the high technology of the Chinese military and seems to believe that the island-hopping strategy against Japan in World War II can be successfully deployed against China in East Asia.  The fact that the Marines haven’t conducted an amphibious operation since the Korean War more than 70 years ago begs the question of whether we even need a Marine Corps.

The Post makes sure that Iganatius’ views are bolstered by guest writers.  On January 21, it featured an oped by Michael Vickers, a former CIA operations officer and assistant secretary of defense for special operations, that called for “moving U.S. combat aircraft and ships forward to Europe” to add to Putin’s uncertainty and to “change his strategic calculus.”  Does Vickers actually want to risk an air war on Russia’s borders that could lead to a European conflagration?  Vickers also wants to support the resistance to Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko and to engage in covert action to “undermine Putin’s rule in Russia.”  Ukraine and Belarus represent vital interests to Russia, and Putin isn’t bluffing.  Vickers, meanwhile, is prepared to risk a major war in Europe that would have untold strategic consequences.

A day earlier, the Post carried an oped by John Bolton, who was renowned for his hawkish views in the Bush and Trump administrations.  Bolton played a major role in the Bush administration in abrogating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and in the Trump administration in abrogating the Intermediate Forces Treaty and abandoning the Iran nuclear accord.  Predictably, Bolton wants to “surge…lethal military assistance to Ukraine (and possibly Georgia and others) and redeploy substantial additional forces there.”  Has he forgotten the five-day Russian-Georgian war in the summer of 2008, when Putin took advantage of Georgia’s assertiveness in the disputed territory of South Ossetia?  Of course, in 2008, it was Bush (and Bolton) who gave the Georgians the false impression of U.S. support for a more aggressive foreign policy.  So, once again, are we going to risk giving the Ukrainians the impression that we will offer military support in case there is a worsening in Russian-Ukrainian relations.

The front page of Sunday’s New York Times reported above-the-fold a so-called British intelligence report that described a Russian scheme to install a Russian puppet government in Kiev.  It is extremely unusual for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office to release such a report, particularly one without any evidence or supplementary information regarding its credibility or likelihood.  The article tries to provide credibility for the report by falsely stating that British intelligence has “primary responsibility for intercepting Russian communications.”  U.S. electronic intelligence is superior to that of the British regarding the Russian military.

The report names a former member of the Ukrainian Parliament, Yevgeniy Murayev, as the likely puppet leader; Murayev’s response thus far was posting a photo of himself on Facebook posing as James Bond with the comment, “Details tomorrow.”  Since British intelligence was politicized twenty years ago to help then Prime Minister Tony Blair make his case for war against Iraq, it is not unreasonable to speculate that the British government is now trying to divert attention from the failing leadership of Prime Minister Boris Johnson by releasing unconfirmed intelligence reporting.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media is dominated by journalists who merely take dictation, protecting their close relations with sources in the national security community.  During the Kennedy and Johnson administration, CIA directors Allen Dulles and Richard Helms had close ties to important journalists such as Joseph Alsop, Drew Middleton, and Joseph Kraft.  National security advisers Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski took advantage of their close ties with Les Gelb and Richard Burt, respectively, to get their views on the front page of the New York Times.  When Gelb left the Times to join the Carter administration, a Times’ editorial boasted that Gelb “stepped down,” an acknowledgement of the power of the paper.

And then there are the out-and-out apologists for national security agencies: Middleton of the Times on behalf of the Pentagon;  Roger Mudd from CBS and PBS on behalf of the Pentagon; and my all-time favorite, Ignatius, on behalf of the CIA.  Early in his career, Ignatius had powerful support from the paper’s editor, Kathryn Graham, and the editor of the editorial page, Meg Greenfield.  In general, the mainstream media has been particularly lazy in its coverage of the Pentagon—pandering to the military itself and using retired general officers with ties to the military-industrial complex as spokesmen.  The United States is largely in an arms race with itself, but the media typically defend the bloated defense spending that both Democrats and Republicans endorse.

In the field of intelligence reporting, the press and cable television rely almost entirely on the views of former CIA directors and deputy directors, particularly John Brennan and John McLaughlin, respectively.  Brennan is a bizarre choice because he supported the CIA’s policy of torture and abuse, and interfered with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of the program.  McLaughlin led the preparation of the phony speech given by then Secretary of State Colin Powell to make the case for war against Iraq in 2003.

Sixty years after President Eisenhower’s warning about the military industrial complex, the United States must come to terms with its elevation of the role of the military; the cult of military spending that has become sacrosanct; the culture of militarism that places U.S. bases all over the globe; and the costly reliance on military force.  The media are insufficiently aggressive in uncovering the nature of U.S. militarism, and as a result the American public is in danger of knowing only those military policies and actions that the government wants it to know.  Meanwhile, we could be drifting mindlessly into a confrontation with a nuclear power in support of no vital American interest.

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. and A Whistleblower at the CIA. His most recent books are “American Carnage: The Wars of Donald Trump” (Opus Publishing, 2019) and “Containing the National Security State” (Opus Publishing, 2021). Goodman is the national security columnist for