About The Bush?
Not With Hersh
By Robert Fisk
05 May, 2006
LONDON: Sy Hersh is an ornery, cussed sort of guy,
not one to suffer fools gladly. As the man who broke the My Lai story
and the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, I reckon he has a right to be ornery
from time to time – and cussed.
He’s dealing with powerful
folk in Washington, including one – George W Bush – who
would like to cut him down. And when Hersh wrote – as he did in
The New Yorker this month – that “current and former American
military and intelligence officials” have said Bush has a target
list to prevent Iran obtaining nuclear weapons and that Bush’s
“ultimate goal” in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is
regime change – again! – you can see why Bush was worried.
“Wild,” he called the Hersh story. Which must mean it has
some claim to veracity.
So when I cornered Hersh
at Columbia University in New York and dropped him a note during a Charles
Glass presentation asking for an interview, I expected a stiff reply.
“Anything you ask,” he scribbled obligingly on a piece of
His own lecture was frightening.
Bush has a messianic vision – and intends to go down in history
(probably he has chosen the right direction) as the man who will have
“saved” Iran. “So we’re in a real American crisis
... we’ve had a collapse of congress ... we have had a collapse
of the military ... the good news is that when we wake up tomorrow morning,
there will be one less day (of Bush). But that is the only good news.”
Hersh might have said that
we’d also had a “collapse” of the media in the United
States, a total disintegration of the Ed Murrow/Howard K Smith/ Daniel
Elsworth/Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward school of journalism. The greying,
bespectacled, obscenity-swearing Hersh is about all we have left to
frighten the most powerful man in the world (save for the jibes of Maureen
Dowd in The New York Times).
So it’s good to know
he’s still doing some fighting, including other journalists on
his target list. “I know some serious generals,” he says.
“I can’t urge them to go public. They’d be attacked
by Fox (TV), and the (New York) Times and The Washington Post would
wring their hands. It’s a mechanism. You don’t get rewarded
in the newsroom for being a malcontent.” Journalists on the mainstream
papers are largely middle-class college graduates – not reporters
who came up the hard way like Hersh’s street reporting in Chicago
in his early days. They have largely no connection to the immigrants’
society. “They don’t know what it’s like to be on
social welfare. Their families weren’t in Vietnam and their families
are not in Iraq.” The BBC, too, has “fallen off the way”.
So what is the Hersh school
of journalism? “In my business, I get information I check it out
and I find it’s not true – that’s what my business
is. Now there is (also) stuff in the military from people I don’t
know – I don’t touch it ... I was seeing (President) Bashar
(Assad of Syria) at the time of the assassination of (former Lebanese
Prime Minister Rafiq) Hariri. There was obviously bad blood between
Bashar and Hariri. Bashar was saying that Hariri wanted to take over
the cell-phone business in Damascus. To this day I don’t know
what happened. I saw Bashar from 11am until 1pm (on February 14, 2005).
He talked about what a thief Hariri was. I didn’t write it.”
And there goes a scoop about
bad blood, I said to myself. But on Iran, it was something different
for Hersh. He was talking to a contact. “I brought up Iran. ‘It’s
really bad,’ he said. ‘You ought to get into it. You can
go to Vienna and find out how far away (from nuclear weapons production)
they are.’ Then he told me they were having trouble walking back
the nuclear option with Bush. People don’t want to speak out –
they want the shit on my head.”
As Hersh said in his New
Yorker report, nuclear planners routinely go through options –
“we’re talking about mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties,
and contamination over years,” he quotes one of them as saying
– but once the planners try to argue against all this, they are
shouted down. According to another intelligence officer quoted by Hersh,
“The White House said, ‘Why are you challenging this? The
option came from you’.” In other words, once the planners
routinely put options on the table, the options become possibilities
to be considered rather than technical reports.
“That whole Johns Hopkins
speech,” Hersh goes on, referring to the address in which Bush
attacked Hersh’s own article, “he talked about the wonderful
progress in Iraq. This is hallucinatory – and there are people
on a high level in the Pentagon and they can’t get the President
to give this up. Because it’s crazy.
“In the UK, you might
have some crazy view – but you knew it was. But these guys (in
Washington) are talking in revelations. Bush is a revelatory at bedtime
– he has to take a nap. It’s so childish and simplistic.
And don’t think he’s diminished. He’s still got two
years ... he’s not diminished. We’ve still got a Congress
that can’t articulate opposition. This is a story where I profoundly
hope, at every major point, that I’m wrong.”
Hersh has also been casting
his wizened eye on the Brits. “Your country is very worried about
what Bush is going to do – your people” – Hersh means
the Foreign Office – “are really worried. There are no clearances
... no consultations.”
In Washington, “advocating
humanity, peace, integrity is not a value in the power structure ...
my government are incapable of leaving (Iraq). They don’t know
how to get out of Baghdad. We can’t get out. In this war, the
end is going to be very, very messy – because we don’t know
how to get out. We’re going to get out body by body. I think that
scares the hell out of me.”
It’s all put neatly
by one of Hersh’s sources in the Pentagon: “The problem
is that the Iranians realise that only by becoming a nuclear state can
they defend themselves against the US. Something bad is going to happen.”
What was that line from Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca, when he
asked Sam, his pianist, what time it is in New York? Sam replies that
his watch has stopped, and Bogart says, “I bet they’re asleep
in New York. I’ll bet they’re asleep all over America.”
Except for Hersh.