Seymour Hersh, the Optimistic Pessimist 

On Bush, Iran and the challenges to journalism

Wednesday, Sep 26 2007

The New Yorker’s legendary muckraker Seymour Hersh, who will be stopping by UCLA’s Royce Hall on October 4 for what will no doubt be a fearsome discussion, has broken some of the most depressing stories in history.

The Vietnam War’s My Lai massacre, wherein our troops murdered anywhere from 350 to 500 defenseless Vietnamese, mostly women and children, and then tried to cover it up. The Abu Ghraib scandal, wherein our troops, along with some of the more than 150,000 private contractors currently retained by the Bush administration, tortured Iraqi prisoners in the very facility Saddam used for the same purposes — and then tried to cover it up.

And now Hersh is sounding the alarm for the United States and Israel’s impending attack on Iran, which could destroy America’s global standing and currency, as well as millions of people by the time the whole clusterfuck is over.

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In other words, reading a Seymour Hersh report is like falling into a dystopian nightmare. Except the nightmare is real, not some simulation, even if all Americans have to hang on to are images and videos culled from the virtual pages of Wikipedia, YouTube and elsewhere.

Hersh’s nose for bullshit famously inflamed Richard Perle, one neocon architect of our occupation of Iraq, to whine to CNN dork Wolf Blitzer that Hersh “is the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist.” Perle resorted to calling him that because the Vietnam-savvy journalist put two and two together and figured our escapade in Baghdad was reminiscent of another boondoggle that went nowhere. Which says as much about Perle’s impoverished philosophies as about anything Hersh could dream up in the pages of The New Yorker.

But Hersh, an accidental optimist bearing very bad news, remains positive. He doesn’t “think that we’re at the stage where we’re not going to have an election. That’s not going to happen.”

Great. We can still have an election. Only in America!

L.A. WEEKLY:Okay, let’s start with the obvious: Bush, Cheney and Iran.

SEYMOUR HERSH: The Iranian story is not over. My sources inside the government call me Chicken Little, but nothing that’s happened over the last few weeks convinces me [a U.S. attack on Iran] is off the table. The drumbeat is intense. Let’s put it this way: We’re about 17 months away from the inauguration of a new president. And I’ll sleep easier then. Maybe.

I’ve always had the feeling that if Bush and Cheney et al. were going to do it, they would do it closer to the election.

I’m not sure there’s any real logic to it. Why wouldn’t they do it whenever they feel like it? Or when they think the American public would buy it? Or maybe they don’t care if the American public buys it. Maybe they don’t care Republicans are screaming, “Don’t do it or the Democrats will kill us next year.” Without question, it’s the most mysterious government in terms of access that we’ve ever had. I don’t know what Bush and Cheney are talking about.

Well, if you don’t, I don’t know who does.

What happens in there, it seems, the public isn’t entitled to know. Recently, Bush signed an executive order declaring that anyone in Lebanon, meaning Lebanese citizens, who disagrees with or is in opposition to the party we support there — a Sunni Muslim group headed by a former aide to Rafik Hariri — can’t come to America anymore. He also added that those in opposition can’t have any financial transactions with the United States either. All of this without any fanfare, which is an amazing thing for a president to do. Roughly 60 percent of the population, perhaps more, disagree with the party in power there. Talk about democracy!

I think they’d attack Iran closer to the election. They’re not fans of elections.

Look, I honestly have to tell you: I think there will be an election. God knows, Bush has demonstrated the total fragility of the Constitution and the democratic process. But I don’t think that we’re at the stage where we’re not going to have an election. That’s not going to happen. He’s had a pretty good run. He’s certainly strengthened the executive branch.

So you feel that when he’s gone, all of this will be papered over?

I don’t know. It’s funny. I’m unhappy to be so skeptical about everything in this country, because in the end I’m an American. Things will change. It’s not the end of America. The politics are cyclical. But the whole world is so extreme; it could be a decade or two before we can pull this into the sunshine.

Are you confident the Democrats will take the White House in 2008?

They haven’t shown me too much so far. I’m a little suspicious of the political process these days. What is good is that the American people are starting to realize that congressional oversight on the executive branch was totally destroyed by the Bush administration and the Republican Congress. The Democrats are beginning to understand that. But in some areas like special ops, renditions, prisons — we’ve got more people captured and imprisoned in Iraq than at any other time of the war — and interrogations, I’m not so sure.

  • On Bush, Iran and the challenges to journalism

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