Few investigative reporters have compiled the track record or amassed the career longevity of the notoriously cranky Seymour Hersh — who these days is churning out national-security scoops for the New Yorker. Now, the 69-year-old Hersh is making headlines — and provoking swift White House reaction — with his April 17 New Yorker story setting the table for potential military action against Iran. The piece features the eye-catching thesis that the Bush administration is again hankering for regime change and at least contemplating the prospect of using tactical nuclear weapons.
It’s fascinating and frightening stuff, written in Hersh’s singular style: straight-down-the-shaft linear prose with lots of anonymous quotes from grizzled insiders and tough guys. But reading “The Iran Plans” can be as frustrating as it is enlightening. Hersh portrays an administration — already militarily and politically bogged down in Iraq — using the same philosophy driven by the same people to repeat the same policy in Iran. In that case, two huge questions come to mind.
First, can it really be true that the situation in Iraq hasn’t given this administration a little more reason to pause, to view the virtues of multi-lateralism more warmly, and to question its ability to control events and manage the spiraling fallout from a major military operation? Is that possible?
Second, how will the great mass of American people — now giving Bush the lowest grades of his presidency and giving Capitol Hill Republicans the willies about the 2006 midterm elections — react if and when key administration figures start making belligerent noises about attacking another country in the Middle East on the basis of fears about its ability to acquire WMD and use them against us?
Hersh doesn’t fill in those very important blanks. And if he can’t finish the job, then New Yorker editor David Remnick should assign someone to do a companion piece looking at the political and philosophical questions raised by Hersh’s reporting. The venerable sleuth can always raise your pulse rate and blood pressure. But somebody needs to add some much-needed context.