Tom Ricks Doesn't Want to Be Called A Lefty (Jump In, Tom, the Water's Fine)

Tom Ricks of the Washington Post is ticked that I said he is on “the left” (in my last item re Obama). He wrote me a note, here’s the exchange:

TR: Describing Iraq as a Hobbesian state worse than a civil war makes one a
leftist? That would be a surprise to the Army major in Baghdad who first used the term in a discussion with me. Under your definition, the Defense Intelligence Agency is a leftist organization.
Cheers…

PW:
Nice appearance. Yep, I made the assumption which I make of most mainstream reporters, esp ones that write about Fiascos in Iraq, that they’re on the left. Certainly that was the function Meet the Press assigned to you: to represent the left. If I’m wrong, I’m happy to run your response…
Also: can I score your book from someone?

TR: Here’s my response: “It’s a rookie mistake to assume things, especially when you can check them out. It must be a real luxury to be able to make things up. If you had read my book, you’d know it isn’t a book of my opinion, but instead is based on hundreds of interviews and a review of 37,000 pages of documents.”
You can get the book at the bookstore.

The only thing I want to retract is describing my judgment of Ricks’s politics as an “assumption” (putting it in the same category as his false assumption I’m a newby). It was a characterization, and I stand by it.

1, Meet the Press assembled a roundtable of four: two neocons, a centrist (CFR’s Richard Haass), and a lib/left voice: Ricks. It’s too bad that Anatol Lieven or Dan Swanson, someone truly on the left, isn’t at the table, but that’s just the way the American cookie crumbles now. The Washington Post is a liberal publication. 2, I mentioned Ricks last summer when he made the brave comment on Howard Kurtz’s show that the Israeli generals were leaving some Hezbollah rockets intact so that the civilian-deaths wouldn’t just pile up on one side, Lebanon. Brave, because Ricks, who as I recall based his statement on informed speculation at the Pentagon, was thereby defying an iron law of the conventional wisdom: Israel is fighting for its existence, not to maintain the perception that it’s David to an Arab Goliath. The Israel lobby went crazy, and Ricks and the Post backed down, alas (with Ricks saying drily that he was going to go back to a noncontentious issue: Iraq). But let’s be clear: Ricks’s willingness to question Israeli motives places him firmly where Russert put him, on the left side of the discourse. 3, Ricks’s claim that the Pentagon’s DIA is neutral shows how little he understands of the ideological matrix in which we work. As I’ve said many times on this blog, with the elites signing off on the Iraq calamity, from the New Yorker magazine to Hillary Clinton, the military is our best hope as the braintrust of the antiwar movement. Cindy Sheehan isn’t far removed from the colonels who are talking to Seymour Hersh, and probably to Ricks, too. Last spring, West Point hosted Noam Chomsky, the Naval War College hosted Walt and Mearsheimer (when these important intellectuals are in mainstream purdah). The guys in uniform who are being called upon to make the only real sacrifice here are also the ones looking for real ideas (like, Talking to Syria). Navy Secretary Winter is pushing for a “hearts and minds” battle with Islam, not a hot war.

I understand why Ricks is ticked. He’s a soi-disant professional and doesn’t want to be ideologically punched. It might damage his credibility. Not in my book. When Ricks said on Meet the Press that the Iraq war was “probably…the most profligate and worst decision in the history of American foreign policy,” he was a brave speaker of truth, and also mirroring the military’s best judgment, which is now on the left of the discourse. The good minds in the defense establishment occupy the same position as State Department Arabists do when the political parties and the executive sign off on illegal Israeli settlements. Tom Ricks can’t cop to this. His problem, not mine.