The perils of Fadlallah-blogging

For the second time this week, someone on the Internet has gotten in trouble for expressing respect for the late Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. CNN Mideast Affairs Editor Octavia Nasr lost her job on Wednesday over a tweet about Fadlallah. Now, Britain's ambassador to Lebanon, Frances Guy, is taking fire from the Israeli government and others over a post on her foreign ministry blog about the late Shiite cleric. The ministry has taken the post down but a cached version is still available on Google. An excerpt:

When you visited him you could be sure of a real debate, a respectful argument and you knew you would leave his presence feeling a better person.  That for me is the real effect of a true man of religion; leaving an impact on everyone he meets, no matter what their faith.  Sheikh Fadlallah passed away yesterday.  Lebanon is a lesser place the day after but his absence will be felt well beyond Lebanon's shores.  I remember well when I was nominated ambassador to Beirut, a muslim acquaintance sought me out to tell me how lucky I was because I would get a chance to meet Sheikh Fadlallah. Truly he was right.  If I was sad to hear the news I know other peoples' lives will be truly blighted.  The world needs more men like him willing to reach out across faiths, acknowledging the reality of the modern world and daring to confront old constraints.  May he rest in peace.     

Those confused about the source of this controversy would do well to check out my colleague David Kenner's piece on the legacy of Fadlallah,  who is frequently described as the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, but whose views, particuarly on Iran and women's rights, are far more complex. 

The British foreign ministry has been very active, and largely very successful, in encouraging diplomats to blog. But the Guy affair is an example of the tensions that can occur when people representing a government write in a medium generally designed for self-expression. The U.S. State Department got a taste of this recently with the uproar over irrevent tweets written on a trip to Syria by two State Department blog that were reprinted by FP's Josh Rogin. 

Though if Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin's Twitter is any indication, the Russian foreign ministry doesn't seem to worry about this too much. 


Gates: Pentagon didn't leak McChrystal report

Reactions to U.S. Defense Secretary Bob Gates's recommendation of Marine Gen. James Mattis to head Central Command today are running the usual gamut of opinion, with nearly everyone pointing to his past statements on how "it's fun to shoot some people" and interpreting that in different ways. (For more of the Mattis treatment, check out this NSFW Twitter thread. My favorite? "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet." He's kind of like the Poor Richard of counterinsurgency, but with a potty mouth.)

Plenty of folks seem to really like the guy. Gates today called him "one of the military's most innovative and iconoclastic thinkers." Tom Ricks, who floated his name as soon as Gen. David Petraeus took the Afghanistan job, has weighed in enthusiastically. The LA Times calls him "one of the military's premier strategic thinkers" and "a deft political operator." Wired's Spencer Ackerman, perhaps the Internet's premier COIN fanboy, says Mattis "has a larger reputation as a big brain," like Petraeus.

Retired Lt. Col. John Nagl, the president of the Center for a New American Security, is also a huge fan. He served under Mattis in Iraq's Anbar province in 2004 and helped him write FM 3-24 (pdf), the famous Army/Marine Corps Field Manual, in 2006.

Asked to comment on Mattis's likely appointment, Nagl emailed: "He is a warfighter and a counterinsurgent, a thinker and a warrior, and we are fortunate as a nation that he will oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Mattis, who is currently the outgoing head of Joint Forces Command, testified in March before the Senate Armed Services Committee. No real standout lines in there, but it's clear he's had a great deal of high-level exposure at JFCOM to the types of strategic and tactical questions he'll face at CENTCOM.

At his press conference this afternoon, Gates also had interesting things to say about the Pentagon's relationship with the media, following up on a memo he sent around last Friday that was quickly and predictably leaked.

"I have grown increasingly concerned that we have become too lax, disorganized, and, in some cases, flat-out sloppy in the way we engage with the press," Gates said. "Reports and other documents, including on sensitive subjects, are routinely provided to the press and other elements in this town before I or the White House know anything about them." (For the record, military and DoD officials remain welcome to leak important documents and information to Foreign Policy.)

Asked why he hadn't said anything about General McChrystal's classified assessment on Afghanistan that was leaked to the Washington Post last fall, Gates gave this tantalizing answer: "Because I was never convinced that it leaked out of this building." Ahem.

On the infamous Rolling Stone article that led to McChrystal's firing, Gates made this emphatic comment: "General McChrystal never, ever, said one thing or in any way, shape or form, conveyed to me any disrespect for civilian authority over the military.  Never.  I have never had an officer do that since I have been in this building, in three-and-a-half years." He then went further: "I have never encountered, at any level of the military, any disrespect for civilian authority."