Publishing the Unpublishable

*Update.* I’ve posted a “revised version of this post at ACW”: It’s shorter, too, so go read that instead.

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Among many vague motives for blogging, I can count a pretty specific feeling of aggravation at the frequently poor quality of public discussion of national security affairs, especially in the charged realm of “Doubleyou Em Dee”: Anything that helps improve that picture, even a small bit, ought to count as the Lord’s work.

What that makes the contribution of the Washington Post’s opinion editors, you can judge for yourself. The Post is by no means the sole “offender”: But it’s past time to say something about the “July 6 op-ed”: by two former Pentagon officials, Trey Obering and Eric Edelman. To that end, I’m taking this momentary break from the blog break.

The op-ed attacked the May 2009 “U.S.-Russia Joint Threat Assessment on Iran”: sponsored by the EastWest Institute. If you haven’t read it yet, let’s just say that the EWI JTA isn’t too gentle in its treatment of the Euro-GMD proposal, something obviously close to the hearts of former MDA chief Obering and former OSD Policy boss Edelman.

Unfortunately, their critique of this serious (if imperfect) contribution came across as dismissive and misleading. This is not an unfamiliar experience for “outside experts who have examined missile defense systems”: After all, “GMD is a political program”: (You could look it up.) But one would hope that it could get a more respectful hearing in an independent newspaper. -To my knowledge, though, the news side of the Post did not cover the EWI report, so- This bristling, blistering op-ed is the only coverage that _the editorial page of_ the paper has provided.

(See the “earlier news coverage”:

That’s really a shame. The mission of the paper is presumably to inform the public, not merely to provoke. (Otherwise, it could be a cable channel.) By that standard, this op-ed really should not have appeared in its current form. At a minimum, the authors of the EWI report should have had an opportunity to avail themselves of the Post’s healthy practice of running an occasional column-length reply to seriously unbalanced opinion pieces. (One of these “Taking Exception” features appeared “just this past Friday”: And lo, two of the EWI study members — the formidable experts Richard Garwin and Ted Postol — did submit a reply at about that length. Jeff “ran it here”:, with maybe a little more color than I would have applied.

As Jeff points out, the Post instead ran a “shorter reply by Garwin”: in the July 9 letters. But it is really not sufficient to address the distortions. I won’t recite them here; see instead the fuller Garwin-Postol reply.

By no means is the EWI report beyond criticism. Uzi Rubin, who once led Israel’s equivalent to MDA and has crossed swords with Postol in the recent past, has already “called attention”: to its clearest shortcoming, the lack of any serious discussion of Iran’s solid-fueled ballistic missile program. This is — what’s that word? — reasonable. Discussions of anything related to missile defense “often aren’t reasonable”: The Post shouldn’t be perpetuating that trend.

*Update.* “ACW commenter”: Yousaf observes that Obering may have a “vested interest”: not disclosed to readers by the Post.

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