The BBC’s State Department correspondent, Kim Ghattas, has a new book out about Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. A review of it is in the Murdoch-owned (but not tarnished by it) Wall Street Journal, written by their assistant books editor, Sohrab Ahmari. Ahmari came to the WSJ with a legal background, and has co-edited a book of essays from Middle Eastern dissidents entitled “Arab Spring Dreams”. So, much like Ms. Ghattas, he’s sympathetic to the plight of Arabs living under lousy rulers, although he clearly comes from a different direction than Ghattas.
Hillary Clinton circled the globe 40 times in four years as secretary of state. But what did all this on-the-go diplomacy accomplish?
Clearly Ahmari comes with a not-very-positive perspective on Clinton’s accomplishments as Sec. of State, and was looking for something in Ghattas’ book. But my concern here is what his review says about Ghattas, and what she says about herself.
The material has world-historical heft, yet the treatment rarely carries weight.
Not a good start.
Ghattas clearly enjoys the access that her job entails and deems no detail of life in the State Department press corps too insignificant to share. There are seemingly endless anecdotes about the “chewy chocolate chip cookies” at the air bases that service the secretary of state’s plane; the chicken-salad dinners aboard the plane; the press packets handed out by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing; the “Bulgari hand fresheners” inside the Saudi king’s tent. Did you know that one time Mrs. Clinton’s plane almost took off without “Arshad Mohammed from Reuters, who had overslept”?
Unfortunately rather shallow, it seems, and more about Ghattas’ job than about Clinton’s. But this comes as no surprise at all to those who have been watching her output for the BBC since 2008. Ghattas never hesitated to gush over Michelle Obama’s dresses or fawn over other superficial things. But that’s not the important bit. It begins here:
Ms. Ghattas adds to this banal reportage her reflections on the meaning and purpose of America’s superpower status.
As a globetrotting, experienced professional journalist, her insights here might be of value, no? Well….
The author, who is of Dutch-Lebanese origin and who grew up in Beirut in the 1980s during Lebanon’s civil war, says that she wrote the book in part to “come to terms with my personal misgivings about American power.”
Her pro-Western family was dismayed when, in 1984, the Reagan administration, having resolved to stop Lebanon’s sectarian bloodletting, withdrew American forces in the wake of Hezbollah’s terror campaign against peacekeepers. Her own political awakening came as a teenager in 1990, when President George H.W. Bush greenlighted Syrian domination of Lebanon in return for Hafez al-Assad’s participation in the first Gulf War against Iraq.
In other words, the BBC chose somebody with a personal grudge against the very country she’s supposed to report on impartially. Just like they keep Jeremy Bowen, who has a personal grudge against Israel, as their Middle East editor, and sent someone full of hope and enthusiasm and the starry-eyed wonder of a small child to become the North America editor – Mark Mardell – to report on their beloved Obamessiah (even the jaded pros at DigitalSpy saw his worship for what it was early on). Or just like how they hired an Obamessiah campaigner to produce digital media material and other reports on the US, based in part on the strength of the video he made about his cross-country trip to get the vote out for Him (Matt Danzico, who continued to run a website for a while to “keep tabs” on the President from a Left-wing perspective, while working for the BBC). Or how they have an extreme Left-wing ideologue as the economics editor for Newsnight. Or, well, you get the idea.
Is Ghattas entitled to her opinion? Of course. Are her concerns about how the US uses its power valid? Irrelevant, even if these are issues genuinely worth examining and debating, because it clearly affects how she approaches her job either way. Is it right to have someone who is wrestling with what is really a personal animosity towards a country as the reporter for that country’s foreign policy activities? No.
Before any defenders of the indefensible get itchy fingers and start telling me I just want somebody who is partisan the other way, and will report only things I want to hear, let me just say that I actually want someone who does not come in with a connection or visceral bias one way or the other. Surely there must be someone the BBC could have brought in that doesn’t have such a deep personal issue like this.
The WSJ review also wonders about Ghattas’ usefulness, but from a different angle.
The lesson of these experiences—that America’s friends pay a steep price when the indispensable nation fails to engage morally—isn’t lost on Ms. Ghattas.
I bet it isn’t. All the more reason why somebody with such an intimate issue shouldn’t be given the job.
Yet it rarely impels her to question Mrs. Clinton’s lukewarm, often cynical, responses to the plight of dissidents and democrats from Iran to Russia to East Asia.
Yes, Ahmari is not a fan of Hillary, and was hoping for at least some criticism of her performance from a supposedly impartial, highly-experienced professional journalist.
Ms. Ghattas takes it for granted that “the world had become allergic to U.S. leadership by the end of the Bush administration” and that, therefore, Mrs. Clinton’s job was to “restore America’s lost face in the world.” Such assumptions lead her to frame age-old wisdom as the revolutionary innovations of the Obama administration. “In the twenty-first century America could no longer walk into a room and make demands; it had to build connections first,” she writes at one point—as if the notion would have shocked, say, Dean Acheson or Thomas Jefferson.
And there you have it. Ghattas came to the job with negative opinions. So even somebody on Ghattas’ side about how the US had negatively affected her fellow Arabs sees the blind worship of The Obamessiah for what it is.
Yet Ghattas has been the voice the BBC expects you to trust most about US foreign policy. Your license fee hard at work, paying people with personal grudges and emotion-based opinions to tell you what’s going on in the world.