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 Kuwai
Recent Articles

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Ignatius clients only)

By DAVID IGNATIUS

WASHINGTON -- If you wonder what the four Americans who were killed Wednesday in Manbij, Syria, were doing there, let me describe a few images from a visit to that city last February that illustrate their mission of helping stabilize this area after the Islamic State was expelled.

Think of a covered market thronged with shoppers: Until the Americans and their allies liberated Manbij in mid-2016, the only color most women dared wear in public was black; now, a rainbow of dresses is displayed on makeshift racks. While the jihadists ruled, people hid their valuable possessions; now, gold sparkles in the jewelers' stalls.

The market is near the restaurant where the four Americans had stopped to have lunch when an explosion took their lives. If you ask what their sacrifice achieved, think of the vibrant street where they died, which was once a monotone of misery.

Or take a walk to a girls' school nearby, and talk to the young women who couldn't attend classes until the Islamic State's power was destroyed by a Kurdish-led Syrian militia, backed by U.S. forces. The girls are wearing makeup and once-forbidden hints of color; one displays a pink hijab; another speaks of someday attending university in France.

As you consider these bright snapshots of a city that, with American help, emerged from darkness, you may understand why U.S. soldiers and civilians serving here have been so passionate about their jobs. They could see every day, in nearly every face, the difference they were making. It has been troubling that President Trump never seemed to appreciate how much America was accomplishing in northeast Syria, with so few resources, but maybe he'll understand better now.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put it well in his recent speech in Cairo. "America is a force for good in the Middle East. ... When America retreats, chaos often follows. When we neglect our friends, resentment builds." I hope Pompeo will have an honest talk with his boss about those truths, and what they mean for Syria policy.

The four American deaths this week shouldn't be used as a political club, one way or the other. The reality is that a ghastly attack like this could happen anytime. It's been a miracle that only two Americans had died in combat in Syria since 2015; that number has now trebled. The mission made sense before; it still does.

Americans will remain targets for as long as they're in Syria. But they'll be even more vulnerable in a pell-mell retreat. The most dangerous military operation can be a withdrawal of forces, like what Trump has ordered. Terrorists will be emboldened, now that they have taken American blood, and hoping to foster a panicked departure.

The Manbij attack carries several obvious lessons. The Islamic State, while driven from its physical caliphate, is far from dead. Intelligence reports say that the group has established "sleeper cells" across northeast Syria that could menace U.S. and allied forces. They've created an underground network, waiting for the moment when America tires.

It's clear, too, that coalition forces in Manbij were distracted from the Islamic State because the more immediate danger there came from Turkish-backed opposition groups. These pro-Turkish groups have assassinated or attempted to assassinate several leaders of the Manbij Military Council, the U.S. and Kurdish-backed group that's trying to stabilize the city. Worried about Turkish threats to attack, the local security forces couldn't concentrate full time on the Islamic State.

Turkey's obsession with the supposed Kurdish terrorist menace may have helped put U.S. forces at risk. Wednesday's tragedy should send a message to Ankara, as well as the White House: Stay focused on the mission of destroying the Islamic State until that job is closer to being finished.

As America should have learned, the Islamic State is like a cancer that hides in cells and bones and tissues, not quite extinguished. The moment you think it's gone, it pounces back, hungry as ever, devouring the healthy organs.

American troops shouldn't stay in Syria forever; Trump is certainly right about that. But he needs to be as careful about how the U.S. leaves Syria, or any other Middle East battlefield, as his predecessors were sometimes reckless about getting in.

For now, Trump should give U.S. commanders what they need in Syria: a small military force to sustain a clear, consistent U.S. policy of destroying what's left of the Islamic State -- and protecting our partners.

If a resurgent Islamic State were able to drag the newly thriving markets and schools of Manbij back into darkness, that truly would abandon the sacrifices Americans have made there.

David Ignatius' email address is davidignatius@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

(Advance for Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Ignatius clients only)

By DAVID IGNATIUS

WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump is giving an unintentional gift to the burgeoning field of Democratic presidential candidates: He is teaching them how they can win.

Trump's failure as president is that he hasn't forged a governing party that can unite the country, pass legislation and address America's problems. He has succeeded in creating an insurgency that has toppled the traditional Republican establishment and intimidated GOP members of Congress into stunned, appalled silence. But with the exception of the 2017 tax cut plan in which wealthier people reap the biggest payouts, he has failed utterly to enact significant domestic policies.

The border-wall tantrum and government shutdown show how Trump has squandered the opportunity that his populist campaign offered. If he had broadened his coalition -- using the "art of the deal" he touts but doesn't seem to understand -- he would have presented a more formidable and lasting challenge to the Democratic Party.

But Trump's insecure, all-or-nothing politics has prevented the compromises and horse-trading that might resolve festering problems and, forgive the phrase, make America great again. Instead, we have a paralyzed, dysfunctional government that even Trump enthusiasts must know is bad for our national health. Every additional day Trump sulks in the White House, his failure is more obvious.

The challenge for the Democrats is to avoid Trump's blunder of creating a headline-grabbing insurgency and instead forge a broad governing coalition. That won't be easy; governing is dull, whereas insurgent movements are sexy. They animate the "base" of true believers and tap the inchoate public anger at the status quo. But insurgencies are self-limiting; they focus inward rather than outward; they are about protesting rather than fixing.

The temptation for Democrats in the age of Trump is to create a mirror image of his dysfunctional party of rage. Democrats can be as entranced as the GOP by the latest bright, shiny object darting across the political sky. They, too, can mistake social-media energy for real political power.

The news media always finds new personalities or inflammatory comments irresistible. That's why Trump has been so successful in manipulating the media. He conducts a daily circus of anti-elitist agitation. He drives wedges into every fissure of racial, gender or cultural division. He plays identity politics while pretending to oppose them.

This month's bright, shiny Democrats, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, among others, are undeniably fun to watch. But do they have the skills (or the desire) to help build the spacious tent in which a governing party must operate? Do they have the self-discipline to avoid quick-hit headlines and forge real alliances?

The midterm elections showed how tired most voters have become of Trump's brand of divisive politics, in which antics to animate the "base" -- the relatively small segment of the electorate that is driven by ideological, racial or cultural convictions -- crowd out the process of building coalitions that can pass legislation.

Nancy Pelosi isn't an ideal leader for a party that wants to reclaim working-class voters, but the value of having her as House speaker now is that she's a disciplined, old-fashioned pol who knows how to keep the Democratic caucus focused and aligned. Newcomers such as Rep. Rashida Tlaib ("impeach the mother----er") will disrupt Pelosi's agenda at their peril.

The Democrat who emerges atop the field will be the person who can convincingly demonstrate how he or she would make the instruments of government work again for the people. That starts with a message and a personality that a healthy majority of Americans can embrace. The ideal Democratic ticket would reach out to the broadest electorate; it would blend youth and experience, male and female, Anglo and Latino, black and white.

But the most important attribute for the Democratic presidential nominee will be an ability to beat Trump. The greatest weakness would be a candidate (backed by an insurgency) that skews the party so far left that it has trouble convincing independent voters in the center that the Democrats can put the country back together. Conservative voters are just as convinced that they face a politics of exclusion as are progressives. The escape is to rebuild a broad, tolerant, diverse middle.

The winning candidate will, almost by definition, create a new political alignment that begins to dissolve the cleavages that are tearing the country apart. What the country needs is a president who can convince most Americans to pull on the oars together again. Otherwise, this boat will remain dead in the water or, worse, keep rocking unsteadily until it eventually capsizes.

David Ignatius' email address is davidignatius@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Ignatius clients only)

WRITETHRU: In 6th graf, final sentence, fixes spelling of last name of Omar Abdulaziz

By DAVID IGNATIUS

WASHINGTON -- One hundred days after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is pressing ahead with anti-dissident campaigns and remains in regular contact with Saud al-Qahtani, the media adviser whom the CIA believes helped organize Khashoggi's killing, according to U.S. and Saudi sources.

The Saudi crown prince, far from altering his impulsive behavior or signaling that he has learned lessons from the Khashoggi affair, as the Trump administration had hoped, appears instead to be continuing with his autocratic governing style and a ruthless campaign against dissenters, the U.S. and Saudi sources said this week.

"Domestically, he feels very confident and in control. As long as his base is secure, he feels that nothing can harm him," says one American who met recently with MBS, as the crown prince is known. One of Britain's most-experienced Saudi-watchers agreed: "He's completely unchastened by what has happened. That is worrying for Western governments."

MBS has been contacting Qahtani and continuing to seek his advice, according to the U.S. and Saudi sources. A Saudi source said Qahtani had also met recently at his Riyadh home with his senior deputies from the royal court's Center for Studies and Media Affairs, the cyber-command post he ran until shortly after Khashoggi's death. "I'm being blamed and used as a scapegoat," Qahtani is said to have told his former aides.

"Qahtani holds a lot of files and dossiers," says the American who met recently with MBS. "The idea that you can have a radical rupture with him is unrealistic." A Saudi who is close to the royal court agrees: "There's stuff [Qahtani] was working on that he may have to finish, or hand over," he said.

One indication that MBS hasn't altered his Qahtani-style internet bullying tactics is an aggressive social-media campaign launched this week to attack Khashoggi and Omar Abdulaziz, a dissident living in Canada.

An Arabic hashtag on Twitter surfaced Thursday claiming to offer "Fact" about the two men's alleged involvement in anti-Saudi conspiracies funded by Qatar. One English-language post showed pictures of the two men with the caption: "Jamal and Omar: Qatar's Agents."

Also appearing on Twitter was a slick video titled "Qatar System Exposed," apparently produced by a company with the same name as a Dubai-based studio. The video includes English subtitles alleging that Khashoggi was involved in a plot to "create a new destabilizing Arab Spring to unsettle Arab countries, mainly, Saudi Arabia."

Another new video argues that The Washington Post shouldn't have given Khashoggi a platform as a columnist when he was also receiving editing advice on his columns from the head of the Qatar Foundation International, a Qatar-funded group based in Washington.

Ironically, the main evidence offered to support these charges of Khashoggi's links to Qatar is a Dec. 22 story in the Post by Souad Mekhennet and Greg Miller. The Qatar Foundation link was hardly a secret; I mentioned it in a long column about Khashoggi that appeared on Oct. 12, 10 days after he disappeared in Istanbul.

Even MBS' strongest supporters in the U.S. appear concerned by the new social-media campaign. Ali Shihabi, the head of the Saudi-backed Arabia Foundation, commented in an email to me Thursday: "I have no idea who is behind this new campaign, but it certainly does not seem wise." He argued that despite a "concerted campaign funded by Qatar and others ... the kingdom's media organs had so far exercised great self-control since the Jamal tragedy, and I would hope that continues."

The videos and web postings in the new campaign all have the professional feel of modern media studios in Dubai. According to a Saudi source, Qahtani recently made two trips to the United Arab Emirates, even though he is supposedly under house arrest in Riyadh. The trips couldn't be confirmed independently.

The Treasury Department said Nov. 15 in sanctioning Qahtani that he "was part of the planning and execution of the operation" that led to Khashoggi's death.

The American who recently visited MBS said he cautioned him that top U.S. military and intelligence officials were weighing whether the crown prince was a dictator, like Iraq's Saddam Hussein, nominally committed to modernization but unreliable, or a solid ally of the United States. "As long as you keep Qahtani, people will say you're more like Saddam," this visitor warned.

Senior Saudi officials who have discussed MBS' continuing contact with Qahtani have urged U.S. patience. "If I try to ban him, [Qahtani] will find another channel," a senior prince is said to have advised the administration. Meanwhile, the Saudi engine of repression continues to run at full speed.

David Ignatius' email address is davidignatius@washpost.com.

(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 Kuwai
Links