There was considerable speculation in press circles when he took over the Wall Street Journal that Rupert Murdoch would make the newspaper’s editorial positions a little bit more mainstream and a little less neo-conservative than they had been, if for no other reason than to further expand its competitiveness with the New York Times. While I only read the Journal’s foreign policy-related editorials, columns, and op-eds, I think I’m safe in saying that the speculation has so far proved unfounded.
Take just the past couple of days’ opinion pages as examples. On Tuesday, it published yet another Islamophobic rant by its “Global View” columnist and former Jerusalem Post editor, Bret Stephens, comparing the recent guidelines by the Departments of Homeland Security and State on the possibly counter-productive use of politically and religiously provocative words in the “global war on terror” with George Orwell’s “Newspeak.” It also published a particularly unenlightening — and not very credible — excerpt from ultra-Likudist Doug Feith’s recent book, War and Decision. Although it’s hard to figure out exactly why the Journal published the article other than to help him promote the book — Stephens wrote a glowing review (unfortunately not available online) of it a few weeks ago — the excerpt appeared designed to reassure readers that Iraq’s alleged WMD programs and terrorist ties really were the main reasons the Bush took the nation to war in Iraq (a thesis that has once again been cast into doubt by Scott McClellan’s new book) and that he, Feith, was right and everyone else was wrong about the administration’s post-invasion “communications strategy” that made democracy promotion the principal justification. (It apparently didn’t occur to Feith that the administration had to come up with a new rationale, beyond WMD and terrorist ties his office worked so hard to establish, in order to justify keeping U.S. troops there.)
But both Stephens’ column and Feith’s op-ed were relatively tame compared to Wednesday’s opinion pages. In the lead editorial, entitled “Punxsutawney Condi,” the newspaper called for the U.S. drop its diplomatic efforts to get Tehran to freeze its uranium enrichment program and instead mount a “month-long naval blockade of Iran’s imports of refined gasoline” — a clear act of war — in order to, in its words, ”clarify for the Iranians just how unacceptable their nuclear program is to the civilized world.”
It also carried a companion op-ed by Amir Taheri, the Iranian-born, London-based journalist occasionally featured by the Journal who gained considerable notoriety two years ago by falsely reporting that the Iran’s Majlis would soon pass legislation requiring Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians to wear distinctly colored ribbons on their clothes, which argued (for the nth time) that it was useless to engage an Iran that is “bent on world conquest under the guidance of the ‘Hidden Imam'” and whose revolutionary identity impelled it to act in ways that recalled Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, and the Soviet Union. Like “Punxsutawney Condi,” the op-ed was as much an attack on the secretary of state as it was on that other foreign-policy naif, Sen. Obama.
Indeed, it seems that Murdoch and the neo-cons really have it in for Condoleezza Rice these days, quite a change from when they greeted her replacement of Colin Powell with undisguised glee at the beginning of Bush’s second term. Thus, this week’s feature article in the Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard blames her — and her exclusively — for “jettisoning the Bush Doctrine” and leading the president himself down the garden path toward appeasement, particularly with respect to Syria, Iran, and North Korea. While the article does not tell us much that was not already in the public record, the fact that it was written by Feith’s former favorite leakee and Cheney’s personally authorized biographer, favorite reporter, and occasional travel companion, Stephen Hayes, makes it worth at least a quick read-through if, for no other reason, than to demonstrate the contempt that the vice president and presumably Elliott Abrams (if I’m reading the anonymous sources correctly) bear for Bush’s secretary of state. That Rice gave Hayes at least two extended interviews — from which he published what have to be the most unflattering and frankly embarrassing excerpts — shows a remarkable lack of judgment on her part.
Of course, Murdoch may not have had anything to do with running the story; it may have been solely Bill Kristol’s call, which would be particularly ironic in light of Kristol’s earlier infatuation with Condi. At a dinner with Bates College Republicans very early in the second term, I am reliably told, he couldn’t stop talking about her many virtues as a political asset, her unlimited future, and her irresistible persona as a “psycho-sexual dominatrix” (his words) in her then-recent appearance at the U.S. airbase in Wiesbaden.