David Ignatius

Washington, D.C.

 David Ignatius writes a twice-a-week foreign affairs column. Ignatius has also written eight spy novels: “Bloodmoney” (2011), “The Increment” (2009), “Body of Lies ” (2007), “The Sun King” (1999), “A Firing Offense” (1997), “The Bank of Fear” (1994), “SIRO” (1991), and “Agents of Innocence” (1987). Body of Lies was made into a 2008 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe.

Ignatius joined The Post in 1986 as editor of its Sunday Outlook section. In 1990 he became foreign editor, and in 1993, assistant managing editor for business news. He began writing his column in 1998 and continued even during a three-year stint as executive editor of the International Herald Tribune in Paris. Earlier in his career, Ignatius was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, covering at various times the steel industry, the Justice Department, the CIA, the Senate, the Middle East and the State Department.

Ignatius grew up in Washington, D.C., and studied political theory at Harvard College and economics at Kings College, Cambridge. He lives in Washington with his wife and has three daughters.
Honors & Awards:
  • 2000 Gerald Loeb Award for Commentary
  • 2004 Edward Weintal Prize
  • 2010 Urbino International Press Award
  • 2013 Overseas Press Club Award for Foreign Affairs Commentary
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, International Committee for Foreign Journalists
  • Legion D'Honneur awarded by the French government
  • As The Post’s foreign editor, Ignatius supervised the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait
Recent Articles

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE. Normally advance for Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, and thereafter.)

(For Ignatius clients only)

By DAVID IGNATIUS

HONG KONG -- As tens of thousands of protesters marched down Hennessy Road toward government headquarters Sunday afternoon, chanting pro-democracy slogans and waving American flags, it was an exuberant celebration of this territory's yearning for freedom.

The protesters seemed mindless of the danger: Men and women, young and old, ninja-clad teenagers and moms with their kids, all joined in the 15th straight weekend of protest. A doctor at a local hospital, a 56-year-old schoolteacher and a 19-year-old girl studying German, English and philosophy stopped to explain to me their chant: "Fight for freedom! Stand with Hong Kong!"

When the marchers passed a pro-Beijing newspaper office, they booed. Approaching the police headquarters, they raised their middle fingers and shouted insults, calling the cops gangsters and dogs. In the hot afternoon sun, they distributed blue fans imprinted with a cartoon of a frantic fish and the words: "I thought water was a basic fish right ... and I thought freedom was a basic human right."

Watching the Hong Kong protests is exhilarating in a world where democracy often seems in retreat and autocrats are on the rise. But I had a nagging fear, too. This idealistic, largely leaderless protest reminds me of the early days of the Arab Spring. That worries me. Without strong leadership, this movement could have a similar unhappy ending.

Sunday afternoon ended with a spasm of violence that's a foreboding of trouble ahead. The hardcore protesters lingered outside the government offices on Harcourt Road while the other marchers moved on. Watching from an overpass 100 yards away, I could see the young would-be warriors crouching behind concrete barriers, cradling bricks and, it turned out, hidden petrol bombs -- which they soon began hurling toward the riot police.

As the petrol bombs torched trees and grass inside the government compound, the protesters cheered. The young radicals wanted a confrontation, and they eventually got one. Cannisters of tear gas were fired from nearby buildings, and a water cannon advanced, followed by baton-wielding riot police. (My thanks to Robert Godden and Jennifer Wang of Rights Exposure, a monitoring group, who provided me with protective gear so I could watch the drama unfold.)

It's now more than 100 days since the pro-democracy protests began in early June. The South China Morning Post tallied the numbers: So far, there have been 2,414 rounds of tear gas fired and 1,453 people arrested. The economic impact is growing, too. Cathay Pacific, a local airline, reported a 38% slump in traffic in August compared with a year earlier; some hotels reported their occupancy rates falling to nearly half.

The democratic movement has deep roots here. At nearly every rapid-transit stop and public gathering place, there's what's known as a "Lennon Wall," with graffiti, placards and personal protest notes. The authorities take down the messages, and by the next day, people have posted a new array. Last week, demonstrators gathered at shopping malls and other public places to sing their new anthem, "Glory to Hong Kong," which proclaims: "Freedom shall shine upon us."

Martin Lee, a human-rights activist who led democracy protests a generation ago and is now 81, tells me he sympathizes even with the militants who have used violent tactics. "For 35 years, I used peaceful means and they ignored me," he says.

Where is this lovable but ill-defined movement heading? During a week in Hong Kong, I put that question to militant protesters and pro-Beijing government officials, as well as to local business leaders and media pundits. In several dozen conversations, I heard the same basic answer that Lee gave: "How will it end? I don't know."

It's now a precarious stalemate: The Hong Kong government is weak and waging what amounts to a weekly standoff; Beijing is frustrated but seemingly doesn't want to intervene militarily; the protesters have broad popular support but no leaders who could forge a pragmatic victory. A prominent former Hong Kong official told me he wants to negotiate with the young protesters, but in this amorphous, internet-based movement, he can't find them.

What's profoundly moving is that the Hongkongers are openly defying mainland China, which in 1997 promised "one country, two systems," but is widely seen to have reneged. A former official explains why he became disenchanted: "I thought we were on the same railway line. Hong Kong was ahead of the mainland, but we were headed to the same destination (of freedom). I don't believe that anymore."

This is a brave, noble movement. It needs leaders who can decide what success looks like, and seize it now, while they're winning. The road darkens ahead.

David Ignatius can be reached via Twitter: @IgnatiusPost.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Ignatius clients only)

WRITETHRU: 10th graf, last sentence: "of some politically" sted "of some of politically"

By DAVID IGNATIUS

WASHINGTON -- Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who will retire this month, is that rare senior official in Donald Trump's Washington whose career and reputation don't seem to have been tarnished by his dealings with the president.

The explanation is simple: The low-key, Boston-Irish Marine maintained the distance and discipline of a professional military officer. He didn't try to be Trump's friend or confidant, and he stayed away from palace intrigue. The White House treated him with respect, and his fellow commanders came to regard him with something approaching awe: "We'd all like to be Joe Dunford," says one four-star general.

In the ceaseless turmoil of the Trump administration, Dunford has been a steady hand who helped insulate national-security policy from disruption and political pressure. His Pentagon colleagues say he will be keenly missed -- several described him as the best chairman in recent decades -- and that they are hoping that Gen. Mark Milley, his successor, can sustain the independence and cool judgment that defined Dunford's tenure.

Dunford doesn't like talking about his relationship with the White House. The closest he has come was probably a Pentagon press briefing last month: "I've worked very hard to remain apolitical and not make political judgments. ... I work very hard to provide military advice ... and make sure that our men and women in uniform have the wherewithal to do their job."

"Joe Dunford is a man for all seasons," says Jim Mattis, the former secretary of defense and a fellow Marine. "Joe has a quiet mind, not easily distracted; he quantifies things, but he brings in the nonquantifiable. Still waters run deep in him. You simply can't shake his faith in his fundamental values."

Mattis cites two combat anecdotes to explain Dunford's unflappable style. In March 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, Mattis told Dunford that because of a last-minute change of plans, his regiment had to move out in five hours, rather than at dawn the next morning. "He just took it in stride," says Mattis.

A few days later, Dunford's unit had fought its way to the Tigris River, with the loss of some Marines, and was ready to seize a strategic bridge. Mattis told him he had to fall back until conditions were safer for the assault. Dunford obeyed that painful retreat order without hesitation, Mattis says.

Dunford was born for the job. The son of a Marine who fought at Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War, he grew up in Quincy, Massachusetts, a working-class suburb of Boston. Colleagues say he retained those grounded values throughout a rapidly rising career.

Gen. Frank McKenzie, the Centcom commander and another fellow Marine, remembers that Dunford faced a delicate problem as a young lieutenant colonel on the staff of the Marine commandant. He had to manage a popular but misplaced protocol officer. He promptly removed the officer, to the consternation of some politically powerful friends.

Dunford's dream was probably to become Marine commandant himself, and after he was appointed to that post in 2014, friends say he assumed it was his last post. When President Barack Obama nominated him chairman in 2015, "he took the job with a Catholic sense of guilt" to do his duty, says one friend.

On Dunford's desk as chairman, he placed the admonition of a venerated predecessor, Gen. Omar Bradley, who cautioned his staff that they didn't have the "luxury" of focusing on just one theater but needed to think globally. Dunford has prodded the different services and combatant commands to do just that -- move toward integrated global strategy, rather than separate fiefdoms.

Dunford built a powerful joint staff to coordinate policy, directed by strong officers like McKenzie and Adm. Michael Gilday, the new chief of naval operations. The joint staff's importance grew as the interagency process of the National Security Council decayed. Some grouse that the joint staff is now too powerful, but it helped fill a dangerous vacuum.

In dealing with Trump, Dunford's friends say his model was Gen. George C. Marshall, the celebrated wartime chief of staff to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Marshall didn't try to be FDR's pal, or laugh at his jokes, or join his social gatherings. Marshall simply did his job.

One four-star general recalls that Trump would sometimes ask Dunford if he liked a particular policy option. "I'm not in love with any of them," Dunford would answer. "My job is to give you choices."

It's Dunford's legacy that in a time of national tumult and division, the military seems to have remained steady as a rock.

David Ignatius can be reached via Twitter: @IgnatiusPost.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

(SPECIAL COLUMN FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE.)

(For Ignatius clients only)

By DAVID IGNATIUS

WASHINGTON -- Six weeks ago, Turkey was threatening to invade the Kurdish region of northeast Syria. Last Sunday, U.S. and Turkish troops instead conducted their first joint ground patrol of that area, with Kurdish cooperation. Score one for American diplomacy, backed by patient U.S. military power.

President Trump had said last December that he wanted to withdraw a Special Operations task force that had been assisting the Syrian Kurds in fighting the Islamic State. But many months later, part of that U.S. force remains in place, helping stabilize the region at relatively low cost.

"America is playing the role of mediator between us and the Turks," Gen. Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the Kurdish-led militia known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, told me in a phone interview last weekend, a few hours before the first U.S.-Turkish joint patrol began. "We know that the Americans are addressing Turkish concerns" about border security, he said. In return, the Kurds want "coordination that will be beneficial for all sides."

To forestall a threatened Turkish invasion, Mazloum agreed on Aug. 7 to a plan developed by U.S. special envoy James Jeffrey for a "safe zone" south of the Turkish border. Mazloum said that his forces have withdrawn from a border strip that ranges from 5 to 14 kilometers, across a swath of northeast Syria. In addition, the SDF has withdrawn its heavy weapons at least 20 kilometers from the border so that they don't threaten Turkey.

Many complications remain, and like most diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, this one is still a work in progress. Mazloum protests that the Turks have been conducting unilateral surveillance flights with drones and aircraft, endangering coalition forces. The Turks complain that the Kurds are building new fortifications within the zone, which Mazloum told me are simply shelters for Kurdish civilians in case of future attacks.

The United States had hoped to delay the first joint patrol until U.S. and Turkish units had worked together longer, and a local security force that could replace the SDF had been trained. But Turkey wanted to launch the joint operation last Sunday, so forces were apparently moved into the zone from the Manbij area, where similar U.S.-Turkish cooperation has been underway for months.

The deeper impasse is still there, even as U.S. officials work around the edges. Turkey doesn't like the idea of even indirect contact with Mazloum's 70,000-person militia, regarding the SDF as controlled by the YPG militia, which it regards as a terrorist group. Even after the first U.S.-Turkish joint patrol of the zone apparently succeeded, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan thundered that if the SDF doesn't leave the zone entirely by the end of September, "Turkey has no choice but to set out on its own," seemingly renewing the invasion threat.

"It seems Turkey's ally [the U.S.] is after a safe zone in northern Syria not for Turkey but for the terrorist group. We reject such an approach," Erdogan said.

But despite Erdogan's rhetoric, and Trump's insistence last December that he would pull out U.S. troops, the zone has been established and seems to be holding, with continued American military support. "We are hoping that this process will normalize the situation in our area and impact the process" for an overall political settlement in Syria that would eventually draw the northeast into a reorganized Syrian government, Mazloum told me.

What's striking, talking to Mazloum, is his calm. Flanked by two volcanic personalities, Trump and Erdogan, the Kurdish leader remains a quiet, seemingly emotionless commander. When I asked whether he still trusted the United States after the roller-coaster of Trump's troop-withdrawal announcements, he answered simply: "We're still working together."

Contact David Ignatius on Twitter @IgnatiusPost

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

About
David Ignatius writes a twice-a-week foreign affairs column. Ignatius has also written eight spy novels: “Bloodmoney” (2011), “The Increment” (2009), “Body of Lies ” (2007), “The Sun King” (1999), “A Firing Offense” (1997), “The Bank of Fear” (1994), “SIRO” (1991), and “Agents of Innocence” (1987). Body of Lies was made into a 2008 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe.

Ignatius joined The Post in 1986 as editor of its Sunday Outlook section. In 1990 he became foreign editor, and in 1993, assistant managing editor for business news. He began writing his column in 1998 and continued even during a three-year stint as executive editor of the International Herald Tribune in Paris. Earlier in his career, Ignatius was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, covering at various times the steel industry, the Justice Department, the CIA, the Senate, the Middle East and the State Department.

Ignatius grew up in Washington, D.C., and studied political theory at Harvard College and economics at Kings College, Cambridge. He lives in Washington with his wife and has three daughters.
Awards
  • 2000 Gerald Loeb Award for Commentary
  • 2004 Edward Weintal Prize
  • 2010 Urbino International Press Award
  • 2013 Overseas Press Club Award for Foreign Affairs Commentary
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, International Committee for Foreign Journalists
  • Legion D'Honneur awarded by the French government
  • As The Post’s foreign editor, Ignatius supervised the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait
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