One can disagree with a prominent journalist without slamming the guy as a professional fraud or a shill for particular interests and a given ideology. Elliott Abrams’s recent National Review Online screed against the Washington Post’s David Ignatius manifests the worst elements of political discourse. He portrays the veteran columnist as a non-journalist who fawns over liberal favorites, ignores inconvenient realities and sucks up to power in order to maintain proximity to it.
One doesn’t have to be a friend of Ignatius (as I have been for many years) to recoil at such a portrayal of a thoroughgoing journalistic professional. And certainly David Ignatius can defend himself just fine. But a few points are worth making.
What got Abrams’s goat was a recent Ignatius column that manifested a certain respect for Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It noted, without judgment, President Obama’s ongoing close association with Erdogan and cited some of Turkey’s economic successes—average annual economic growth of 5.3 percent for a decade; a tripling of GDP and foreign reserves; investment from abroad increasing by more than sixteen times.
Ignatius acknowledges that Obama’s collaborations with Erdogan have riled some domestic interests, particularly Jewish groups upset about deteriorating relations between Turkey and Israel. But he suggests Turkey’s growing clout and Islamic identity position it for greater regional leadership, as reflected in atmospherics at the World Economic Forum meeting in Istanbul.
When he wasn’t attacking Ignatius ad hominem, Abrams made two points: first, Erdogan’s human-rights record is questionable; and second, the country’s economic growth may be based upon unsustainable debt. On the former, he cites a balanced analysis in these spaces by former U.S. ambassador to Turkey Morton Abramowitz; on the latter, he cites The Economist.
But neither negates Ignatius’s entirely worthy observations. Despite China’s human-rights lapses and apparent economic bubble, nobody suggests we should ignore its power or significance. And even Abramowitz, who sees Erdogan losing steam after a decade in power, still acknowledges his manifest successes born of his clear political brilliance.
So what’s eating Elliott Abrams? Hard to say based on this howler of a commentary.