Writing at BuzzFeed, my colleague James Kirchick informs readers that famed New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh once opined that the assassination of President John F. Kennedy “might have been some justice.” Kennedy had plotted to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. So, in Hersh’s view, it is “right” to believe there may have been some “rough justice,” as one of Hersh’s readers put it, in Kennedy’s “terrible death by assassination.”
Kirchick’s column builds off of a superb essay he wrote for Commentary magazine, “The Deceits of Seymour Hersh.” It is worth reading Kirchick’s pieces in full, so I won’t try to summarize them entirely here. But I do want to pull out just one of Kirchick’s keen observations and add a footnote to it.
Kirchick writes in Commentary that Hersh “is the leading reportorial expositor of a narrative that has proven very useful to liberals, particularly after it became clear that the intelligence regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was inaccurate, and the swift overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime gave way to a destructive, years-long insurgency.” Hersh “reassured” readers that the case for war against Saddam’s regime was “based on a series of deliberate falsehoods,” instead of flawed intelligence.
It didn’t matter that many on the left endorsed the case for war, or believed that intelligence to be true. By shifting the blame to a bunch of “Straussians” who supposedly lied America into a war, Kirchick argues, Hersh absolved “the liberal establishment, from journalists to elected officials, of intellectual responsibility for their words and actions.”
This is an excellent summary of the American elite’s post-March 2003 world. Kirchick’s analysis is buttressed by countless statements by Democrats, as Norman Podhoretz has previously noted, who made many of the same arguments as the Bush administration during the lead up to the Iraq war. After these statements turned out to be untrue, the Democrats simply blamed Bush and the nefarious (and ubiquitous) “neocons” for making it up. It was, and remains, a politically convenient argument.
In the aftermath of Iraq, Hersh took this much further, as did many on the left who followed. As Kirchick notes, Hersh warned readers over and over again that the Bush administration was plotting a war against Iran. The same type of skewed morality that Hersh employed when writing off Kennedy’s assassination as possibly “some justice” led him to trivialize Iran’s decades-long terrorist assault against America and her allies. The real villain, in Hersh’s telling, was the Bush administration with its lust for war.
That war never came. But Hersh has continued on, even now that a Democrat who ran as an antiwar candidate inhabits the oval office. In relations between Iran and the U.S., Iran still comes off in Hersh’s reporting almost as a victim.
Hersh’s arguments are actually quite malleable – just as long as his real villain remains in the crosshairs. I have previously written about Hersh’s reporting on the war with Iran that was supposedly coming. I pointed readers to the forward he wrote for Bob Baer’s 2002 book, See No Evil. Baer recounts at some length the ties between Iran and its chief terrorist proxy Hezbollah, on the one hand, and al Qaeda on the other. Baer surmised that Iran and Hezbollah may have even helped al Qaeda pull off the September 11 attacks.
Here is what Hersh wrote about this possibility (emphasis added) in November 2001 forward:
We’ve hit intelligence rock bottom in America. As this is being written, nearly three months after the September 11 terrorism attacks, the intelligence community still cannot tell us who was responsible, how the assassins worked, where they trained, which groups they worked for, or whether they will strike again. Did Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network pull it off themselves, as the Bush administration constantly claims, or was at least one other Mideast terrorist group involved, as Bob Baer suggests? We don’t know, but I’m betting that the facts, when they emerge, will back up Baer’s instinct that the attacks in America were not solely the responsibility of someone operating out of a cave in Afghanistan.
Back then, Hersh was “betting” that Baer was right, and that Iran and Hezbollah helped al Qaeda pull off 9/11. Note that Hersh thought this argument was a useful cudgel for going after the Bush administration.
Amazingly, more than two years later, the 9/11 Commission did find ties between Iran/Hezbollah and the hijackers. A last minute discovery of intelligence reports showing these ties was written into the commission’s final report on pages 240 and 241. In a section entitled, “Assistance from Hezbollah and Iran to al Qaeda,” the 9/11 Commission concluded that the issue “requires further investigation by the U.S. government.”
Hersh wasn’t interested in pursuing this story, however. It would have complicated his blame Bush, turned blame America, narrative.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.