Schadenfreude and the Classified Gates Memo

I suspect that conservatives in our polity will be quite pleased with the way Bob Gates's classified memo is being interpreted the media. It would appear to confirm a long-held conviction that the Obama administration is feckless when it comes to dealing with Iran, and reckless about not actively pursuing the military option. Whether the memo did say something like that is disputed; Gates and the White House say it was merely (merely!) a recognition of the reality of dealing with a complex issue and a list of potential options to incorporate as the policy evolves. But let's stipulate for a moment that the Times got it right.Doesn't matter. The only difference I see between the leaking of this memo, which was classified at the TOP SECRET level, and the existence of the NSA's domestic surveillance program is that the latter program (pardon me, Gen. Hayden, since I know you're a fan of my blog), is at least arguably, ah, suspect. Whoever leaked this memo to the Times has to bear the responsibility of knowing that they could very well have fortified Iran's intention to resist international pressure, that it could very well have complicated the careful cultivation of China and Russia on sanctions, that it could steel Israel's spine in ways that would be perhaps deleterious for the region.

As a journalist, I'm of two minds. Revealing policy chaos on a critical issue is a public service. So is pointing people to an unclothed emperor. There is no ambiguity about the duty of journalists when it comes to revealing to the public stuff that the government doesn't want to be revealed, provided that the government is either lying to THE people, doing something illegal, or otherwise trying to convince the world that what's "A" is really "B." However, I understood the government's panic at the NSA revelations, and I think this type of leak is just as potentially damaging. My instincts are to give the Times the benefit of the doubt here. But shouldn't conservatives who decried the damage of the NSA disclosures, as they did in 2005, give the government the benefit of the doubt in this case?

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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