David R. Henderson  

David Ignatius, Court Reporter

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Co-blogger Arnold has an excellent post this morning on Washington Post columnist's David Ignatius's piece on the rage against Washington. Ignatius asks why there is so much rage against the federal government given how good policy from Washington has been. Ignatius's Exhibit A is the TARP. But to think that the TARP was good you have to think that (1) without it, we would have had the kind of meltdown Ignatius thinks we would have had and, as Arnold points out, the kind of meltdown that Ignatius gives no evidence for, and (2) that discretionary power used by federal government officials is a good thing.

This is typical David Ignatius. He is what I call a "court reporter." That is, he buddies up with those in power and most of the time avoids asking or trying to answer the tough questions. I saw this on display at a June 8, 2009 event at the Naval Postgraduate School in which CNN's Frank Sesno, David Ignatius, and retired general John Abizaid were on stage. I wrote about it in "Politics Between the 45-yard Lines" and I did give credit to Ignatius for making a few good points. But he also, when push came to shove with Abizaid's record on Abu Ghraib, settled for congratulating Abizaid after Abizaid had congratulated himself. Here's an excerpt from my piece:

One question from the audience was about how the travesty at Abu Ghraib happened. Abizaid fielded it: "The only time I ever thought about resignation because I was dissatisfied with my own personal performance, it was over Abu Ghraib."

Sesno followed up: "At what point, either in protest or accountability, does a senior officer resign?"

Abizaid answered, "When given an order that's immoral or illegal, you have no choice but to resign." (Emphasis his.)

Here I need to comment. I think a reporter worth his salt would have asked the obvious question: "Given that you never resigned, that means you must never have been given an immoral or illegal order. Is that true?" Yet Sesno didn't ask that. The next day in class, when I pointed this out to my students, a student of mine, an Army officer who had been stationed in Iraq, pointed out something else: Abizaid hadn't, in fact, answered the question Sesno had asked. He didn't answer at what point a senior officer should resign in protest or accountability. All he gave was the extreme: resignation in response to an illegal or immoral order.

Ignatius, though, had a different response from that of my Army student or me. He said, "Wow! That's leadership." Then Sesno fell in line, saying, "I applaud you, General, for that." Much of the audience of military officers broke into applause.


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COMMENTS (4 to date)
fundamentalist writes:
He is what I call a "court reporter."

More like a courtesan.

Radford Neal writes:

I'm commenting as someone who really knows nothing of military law, in either theory or practice, but still...

I would have thought that you should definitely not resign when given an illegal order. That would just ensure that the illegal order was carried out, after some number of people resigned (the person giving the order is bound to eventually get someone who is compliant). Instead, your duty would be to refuse the order, and report the illegality to someone higher up in the chain of command.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Radford Neal,
That's my understanding too.
Best,
David

Chris writes:

I'm an active duty Naval officer (who hopes to come to NPS in a few years and learn from Prof. Henderson ;)and that quote by the good General is complete and utter window dressing. Mr Neal more or less has the right of it. And how to react to clearly immoral or illegal orders is Military Ethics 101 stuff. Its on the margins where it gets interesting, much like Economics. ;)

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