The Washington Times story on Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s talk on Tuesday is missing a little something. Specifically, the Times omits any mention of his assessment of the unsavory outcomes of a U.S. military attack on Iran.
Here’s the Times report, by Ben Birnbaum (my emphasis throughout), minus the article’s last two paragraphs about an Iranian air defense war game:
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said Tuesday that there were indicators that international sanctions on Iran had caused a rift between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme LeaderAyatollah Ali Khamenei.
“I personally believe they’re still intent on acquiring nuclear weapons, but also the information that we have is that they have been surprised by the impact of the sanctions,” he said. “Those measures have really bitten much harder than they anticipated, and we even have some evidence that Khamenei now is beginning to wonder if Ahmadinejad is lying to him about the impact of the sanctions on the economy and whether he’s getting the straight scoop in terms of how much trouble the economy really is in.”
Mr. Gates said “the only long-term solution in avoiding an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is for the Iranians to decide it’s not in their interest” and “everything else is a short-term solution.”
On Nov. 8, Mr. Gates cited the success of the sanctions to push back against comments from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that “a credible threat of a military operation” is the only way to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
Speculation continues to run wild over whether Israel will launch air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities if Western diplomatic and economic measures are seen as failing.
Not a word on Gates’ warning about an attack, a warning that echoes the concerns of a wide array of former top Pentagon brass and diplomats and prominent Iranian dissidents — namely, that an attack would unify Iran against the United States and destroy the nascent opposition.
Birnbaum simply doesn’t report this aspect of the talk.
Sanctions against Iran are biting hard and triggering divisions among its leadership, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday, as he argued against a military strike over Tehran’s nuclear program.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, reiterating his long-standing opposition to a military attack on Iran, said Tuesday that new sanctions led by the Obama administration are causing divisions within the Iranian leadership.
Kessler, a mere two paragraphs later, adds:
Gates, who has repeatedly warned against military strikes on Tehran’s nuclear facilities, said, “I personally believe they are intent on acquiring nuclear weapons…”
Additionally, Gates told the [audience] that a military strike would not succeed at halting Iran’s nuclear program. He said it would only result in it becoming more secretive than it already is, and strengthen the country’s unity.
While most of those pieces were longer than Birnbaum’s, it’s clear these other publications reported what was a central thrust of Gates’s answer to the question he was asked about Iranian nukes — that attacking Iran is a bad idea. Birnbaum leaves this out entirely, instead juxtaposing Gates’s recent PR work for sanctions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for a “credible military threat” against Iran. Given that Birnbaum had enough “white space” to tack on two paragraphs about Iranian wargames, it seems that brevity was not the issue, either.
The Washington Times, which until recently faced some financial problems, has a decidedly hawkish bent. Their opinion section regularly publishes some of the most belligerent voices in U.S. foreign policy. That does not necessarily reflect poorly on the newsroom; the Times has featured Eli Lake’s informative national security reporting.
I’m not as familiar with much of Birnbaum’s work, but it seems good enough. Eli Clifton, on this blog, reported an instance when the Bahraini government took issue with a diplomat’s comments to Birnbaum, but it seems to have been a standard walk-back. Our colleague Daniel Luban also took a little issue with Birnbaum’s New Republic hit piece on Human Rights Watch, but said from the get-go that Birnbaum’s piece “actually isn’t terrible, at least by the (admittedly low) standards of TNR hit pieces.” That’s pretty much how I feel about what little I’ve read.
Nonetheless, in this instance, Birnbaum’s omission raises serious questions his reporting.