Iraq: American public opinion vs. a "small but powerful group"

The gulf continues to widen between the views of most Americans regarding Iraq and the faction which Gen. John Sheehan called the "small but powerful group" responsible for the war's continuation.


Glenn Greenwald
April 16, 2007 2:11PM (UTC)

In his important Washington Post Op-Ed this morning, Retired Marine Corps Gen. John Sheehan -- in the course of explaining why he asked not to be considered for the new post of "war czar" in the Bush administration -- has become the latest military expert to warn the country that our military and war policy in Iraq is destined to fail, because it is being controlled by a small band of propagandists who have no coherent strategy for ever leaving Iraq:

What I found in discussions with current and former members of this administration is that there is no agreed-upon strategic view of the Iraq problem or the region. . . .

There has to be linkage between short-term operations and strategic objectives that represent long-term U.S. and regional interests, such as assured access to energy resources and support for stable, Western-oriented countries. These interests will require a serious dialogue and partnership with countries that live in an increasingly dangerous neighborhood. We cannot "shorthand" this issue with concepts such as the "democratization of the region" or the constant refrain by a small but powerful group that we are going to "win," even as "victory" is not defined or is frequently redefined.

We all know exactly to which "small but powerful group" Gen. Sheehan is referring here. "Surge" architect Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute -- whose wife (Kimberly) in the Weekly Standard and brother (Robert) in The Washington Post have been writing one article after the next proclaiming that we are "winning" thanks to Frederick's glorious Surge -- himself has an article in today's online Weekly Standard, entitled "Fighting to Win," in which he spews exactly the propaganda which Gen. Sheehan condemns:

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As Congress again takes up the issue of support for our troops fighting in Iraq, members should have the decency to take account of the successes those troops have fought for and achieved in recent weeks. Much of the support in the Democratic caucus for cutting off funds for Iraq comes from a conviction that the war is irretrievably lost. One could be excused for thinking that in the fall of 2006, when sectarian violence seemed to be cycling out of control against the backdrop of a wrong-headed U.S. strategy. But President Bush has adopted a new strategy, put in place a new command team, and provided new resources for the effort, and the situation has begun to improve. Failure remains possible, as it always does in war, but the possibility of victory has grown significantly. . . .

The truth is that the outcome of most wars remains in doubt until they are very nearly over. Until late 1864, it looked as though the Union might well lose the Civil War. Within a year, Lincoln had triumphed. The conflict in Iraq is central to our foreign policy, indeed to our well-being. Surely we must keep fighting to win as long as victory remains possible. And it is possible, although not certain, that we will win in Iraq. Right now, the signs are more hopeful than they have been in many months. It would be a tragedy for America and for Iraq to abandon the fight just as the possibility of success began to emerge.

As always, for the dead-ender pro-war propagandistis, the sun is starting to shine in Iraq. Things are improving. Victory is in sight. We just need to stay longer, keep occupying Iraq, doing what we have been doing, and glorious triumph will be ours. It is the same exact song, with slightly modified lyrics ("Surge"), which they have been singing for four straight destructive years.

Time and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, one of the most predictable spokesmen for this "small but powerful group," dutifully echoes The Kagan Family's deceitful rhetoric in his latest column:

The Democrats in Congress are so consumed with negotiating among their factions the most clever linguistic device to legislatively ensure the failure of the administration's current military strategy -- while not appearing to do so -- that they speak almost not at all about the first visible results of that strategy. . . .

And preliminary results are visible. The landscape is shifting in the two fronts of the current troop surge: Anbar province and Baghdad.

We're winning. For the most transparent war propagandists like Krauthammer, we're always winning in Iraq.

And the same Beltway elite which bears a substantial portion of the guilt for driving this country into the disastrous invasion of Iraq continues to impede any efforts to extricate ourselves from this war. That is because staying forever is the only way they have to avoid the ultimate day of reckoning, when it is conclusively revealed -- beyond even the protective reach of the Kagan/AEI/Weekly Standard propagandists -- just how disastrous this invasion was for the United States and just how barren their judgment and integrity are.

Hence, Fred Hiatt, in today's Washington Post Editorial, pretends to support what he calls a "compromise" but, in reality, is merely the latest manipulative tactic for ensuring that we never leave Iraq until the Leader decides we should (which is, of course, never). After condemning every proposal that would lead to an actual end to the war, Hiatt recommends "non-binding" suggestions from Congress, and then concludes with this:

It's worth remembering, however, Gen. Petraeus's recent observation that "the Washington clock is moving more rapidly than the Baghdad clock." It's unrealistic to expect that Iraqi leaders will be able to meet the long list of benchmarks in the matter of months that both Congress and Mr. Bush are counting on. Gen. Petraeus said he was "trying to speed up the Baghdad clock a bit" and also "put a little more time on the Washington clock." That would be a good theme for Mr. Bush and the Democrats to discuss.

As always, this is what our opinion-making elite wants more than anything -- "more time on the Washington clock" to remain in Iraq. It's only been four years. The only proposals that are being seriously considered would extend that occupation by still another full year at a minimum. But for the Fred Hiatts who brought us this war with their slavish loyalty to the Bush administration, five years of a failed occupation is not enough. Just as is true for the President, "defeat" is defined as leaving, so they will never want to leave.

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What continues to be the most remarkable aspect of all is just how completely out of touch the Kagans and Hiatts are -- not only with much of the military establishment, but also with the intense and widespread hatred of this war among the American citizenry. In an Op-Ed column in The Los Angeles Times, Eve Fairbanks reports on what House members even from the country's conservative districts are hearing from their constituents about the war:

Democratic freshman Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) represents the kind of swing district that swung Congress to the Democrats in November -- and the kind of district that would be watching Pelosi and her crew closely to see if they went too far left too fast.

During a recent trip home to hear what was on his constituents' minds, Yarmuth heard about Iraq everywhere he went -- and the calls were almost uniformly for withdrawal, without patience for nuances like the nitty-gritty of Congress' constitutional powers. On Iraq, he sensed his constituents were actually more extreme in their views than either he or the House Democratic leadership was.

Fairbanks' central theme is that while Nancy Pelosi is depicted as some sort of Far Left radical, her positions on the war have actually been far more cautious and moderate than what most Americans, including those in conservative districts, want with regard to the war.

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The "Surge" is nothing more than a crass marketing gimmick, concocted by war propagandists who have been lying to the country for the last four years about Iraq, to justify to an anti-war populace why we must continue our occupation. And while Fred Hiatt and his Extremely Serious and Sober Beltway War Supporting Comrades are too awash in desperate self-interest to see it, Americans themselves are not fooled by that tactic in the slightest.

It has been three months since the President unveiled his Glorious Surge Plan and Americans want out of Iraq today more than ever before. But as Paul Krugman put it today: "Beltway insiders [] still don't seem to realize how overwhelmingly the public has turned against President Bush. . . . The public hates this war, no longer has any trust in Mr. Bush's leadership and doesn't believe anything the administration says."

It is true that our system of government is not a direct democracy whereby every policy must, at every given moment, be matched up with the views of a majority of Americans. Representative democracy means that elected officials make decisions which sometimes can -- and sometimes should -- deviate from the prevailing views of the majority. That is all fair and true enough.

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But the gulf has now become enormous and long-standing -- really, fundamental -- between (a) the actions and beliefs of our opinion-making Beltway elite and the "small but powerful" band of neoconservative/AEI/warmongering radicals whom they venerate and follow, and (b) the entrenched, well-considered and pervasive beliefs of the American populace about this war and Middle East militarism generally.

Americans have long ago abandoned this war and want out, and they made that as clear as can be in the last election. But The Weekly Standard/AEI faction and Fred Hiatt could not care less about any of that. The former has a Middle East agenda which outweighs all, while the latter has what it believes to be wisdom far superior to (and more Serious than) the views of the dirty and ignorant masses -- "wisdom" which, in reality, is merely a disguise for rank self-interest in wanting to conceal how terribly and tragically wrong they were about this war.

Thus, the Kagan/Kristol/Krauthammer war propagandists continue to say whatever they have to say in order to find a way to stay in Iraq forever. Our Serious Beltway pundits continue to embrace that reasoning because staying is the only way to avoid the reality of how wrong they were. And the disconnect between what Americans want and think, and what our government (and the "small but powerful" faction that controls it) does, continues to grow without any end in sight. On the most crucial issues faced by this country, nothing matters less to the Kagans and the Fred Hiatts (and, increasingly, to many disturbingly tepid Congressional Democrats) than the views of Americans. Within that disconnect lies most of the sicknesses ailing our political culture.

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Glenn Greenwald

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