John Burns may be the New York Times‘s finest, and certainly toughest, reporter. He’s been in Iraq since well before the war. Today he profiles the forever fellow-traveling Ramsey Clark, currently a member of Saddam Hussein’s defense team. In his subtle, measured way, Burns undresses Clark — “a tall, gaunt figure, still with a Texas drawl after decades of living in New York…” Before Burns is done with him, Clark is displaying a propensity for moral equivalence apologetics that during the 1930s would have had him rushing to defend Stalin. Burns reports:
At his trial, Mr. Hussein is charged with crimes against humanity in the killing of 148 men and teenage boys from the Shiite town of Dujail, north of Baghdad, after an assassination attempt against Mr. Hussein there in 1982. But Mr. Clark suggested that Mr. Hussein’s secret police had reason to act harshly against Shiite assassins who, he said, almost certainly had political links to Shiite-ruled Iran, then in the early stages of an eight-year war with Iraq. He compared the actions of Mr. Hussein’s secret police with the muscular behavior of an American president’s security detail.
“Just look at how our Secret Service works,” he said. “I’ve been knocked down several times when they see some kind of threat.” In any case, he said, he could not see how Mr. Hussein could be blamed for the killings. “He was the president of the country, he was in a war, he was a pretty busy guy,” he said. “I can see this as a case of some of his juniors overreacting.”
Speaking of Iran, former general Wesley Clark for once raises a serious point, also in today Times, based on his talks with “America’s friends in the Persian Gulf region”:
While American troops have been fighting, and dying, against the Sunni rebels and foreign jihadists, the Shiite clerics in Iraq have achieved fundamental political goals: capturing oil revenues, strengthening the role of Islam in the state, and building up formidable militias that will defend their gains and advance their causes as the Americans draw down and leave. Iraq’s neighbors, then, see it evolving into a Shiite-dominated, Iranian buffer state that will strengthen Tehran’s power in the Persian Gulf just as it is seeks nuclear weapons and intensifies its rhetoric against Israel.