A new low of mindlessness for our media

Returning to marvel once again at the deceitful Brookings Institution media spectacle.

Published July 31, 2007 12:38PM (EDT)

It is difficult to remember a media spectacle to match yesterday's grand pageant where Ken Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon were paraded across virtually every network and cable news show and radio program and heralded as "war opponents" and "Bush critics" who nonetheless returned from Iraq and were forced by The Truth to admit that we are Winning. For sheer deceit and propaganda, it is difficult to remember something quite this audacious and transparently false.

As was demonstrated yesterday, O'Hanlon and Pollack were among the most voracious cheerleaders for Bush's invasion and, as the war began to collapse, among its most deceitful defenders. But it goes so far beyond that.

Even through this year, they have remained loyal Bush supporters. They were not only advocates of the war, but cheerleaders for the Surge. They were, and continue to be, on the fringe of pro-war sentiment in this country. And yet all day yesterday, this country's media loudly hailed them as being exactly the opposite of what they really are. It was 24 hours of unadulterated, amazingly coordinated war propaganda that could not have been any further removed from the truth.

Let's just look at their record within the last year alone. In December of 2006, the NYT -- as it frequently does -- invited O'Hanlon to write an Op-Ed on "The State of Iraq -- an Update," and this is what the vicious Bush critic and war opponent O'Hanlon said was needed in Iraq:

Significant changes are clearly needed. At a minimum, we will probably require some combination of the options now being offered the president by the Iraq Study Group, the Pentagon and others -- a large program to create jobs, a surge of perhaps 25,000 more American troops to Iraq to improve security in Baghdad, an ultimatum to Iraqi political leaders that if they fail to achieve consensus on key issues like sharing oil, American support for the operation could very soon decline.

O'Hanlon -- whom the media spent all day yesterday lionizing as some sort of Abbie Hoffman-like war protester who saw the light on the Road to Baghdad and realized that the war he hated was, in fact, Succeeding -- was advocating the Surge even before George Bush announced it. And now -- so shockingly -- O'Hanlon proclaims that the Surge which he publicly urged was a Great Idea because it is Working. And that was the leading news story all day yesterday.

Far worse still, when supreme warmonger and Bill-Kristol-partner Fred Kagan, who designed Bush's Surge strategy, wanted to unveil his Magic Plan, where did he go? To the Brookings Institution to visit with his friends Mike O'Hanlon and Ken Pollack:

On December 21, 2006 the [Brooking Institution's] Saban Center for Middle East Policy hosted a policy discussion during which Frederick Kagan presented the views of the AEI team. . . .

[A] group led by Frederick Kagan, under the auspices of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), has recently released a study proposing a new approach for stabilizing Iraq, entitled Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq. The report proposes shifting the focus of the U.S. military deployed in Iraq from training the Iraqi armed forces to securing the Iraqi population and containing the escalating violence. To achieve this, Kagan and his colleagues propose increasing U.S. combat forces in Iraq by roughly 30,000 effectives.

After the War Genius Kagan was done unveiling his Grand Plan for Victory, ferocious Bush critic and fist-pumping Iraq war opponent Mike O'Hanlon spoke:

Following Kagan's presentation, Michael O'Hanlon provided commentary. O'Hanlon supported the overall strategy elaborated by the AEI team.

Introducing Kagan was Super Tough War Opponent and Bush critic Ken Pollack, who said (.pdf):

We are delighted that Fred Kagan of AEI was willing to come over here today and be the lead speaker in this series. . . . I think you are aware that Fred's plan, as they are already presenting it, is starting to make a great deal of waves in Washington because they are coming forward and saying that it is possible to succeed there, that it may requires some additional troops, but that it won't break the bank and it is worth doing.

It is obviously a very important contribution to the debate because it is the first time that a group of serious people have sat down, worked out a plan by which they believe that both of these things. . . .

After Kagan was done unveiling all of the glories of his Surge, this is the first thing which the anti-war Bush critic O'Hanlon said:

And on January 10, 2007, right after Bush announced his Surge plan, O'Hanlon went and testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (.pdf) and advocated Bush's plan:

O'Hanlon followed up his pro-surge testimony with an Op-Ed in The Washington Post -- entitled "A Skeptic's Case for the Surge" -- in which he said about the Surge: "it is still the right thing to try." This is just some of what was written in that Op-Ed by O'Hanlon, the person the media told us repeatedly yesterday was a real tough Bush critic and war skeptic:

* each main element of the president's plan has some logic behind it . . .

* it would still be counterintuitive for the president's critics to prevent him from carrying out the very policy they have collectively recommended. . . .

* the president wants to move in the right direction on economic reconstruction. . . .

* President Bush is rightly telegraphing to Iraqi leaders that they must reach compromises with each other . . .

* Rather than deny funding for Bush's initiatives, Congress should provide it now . . .

* Congress should also give the president the money and support that he requests.

In February, O'Hanlon went to the Wall St. Journal Editorial Page to argue that Congressional Democrats were wrong to oppose the war and should allow the Surge to continue because Gen. David G. Petraeus has a New Plan that "is much more consonant with classic counterinsurgency doctrine than anything the coalition has tried to date." Joe Lieberman and Bill Kristol could not have said it better themselves.

That is the person who yesterday made front-page and lead-item news by announcing his completely shocking and unexpected findings that the Surge plan (that he advocated) means that the war in Iraq (which he boisterously supported and on which his professional reputation is riding) is succeeding (just as he predicted it would).

When it comes to the Iraq War, Mike O'Hanlon and Ken Pollack are rank pro-war propagandists whose differences with Bill Kristol, Fred Kagan and National Review are microscopic. Indeed, this year, O'Hanlon and Fred Kagan jointly authored a Grand Plan (.pdf) for a wild expansion of the U.S. military in order to support the new wars they undoubtedly are envisioning together. It is more surprising -- and more newsworthy -- that the sun rose this morning than it is that O'Hanlon and Pollack have announced that the Surge is Succeeding.

At the Brookings party they threw for Fred Kagan, O'Hanlon -- after lavishing Kagan's Surge plan with praise -- went on to identify what he called the one aspect of the plan he thought should be modified:

So again, O'Hanlon repeatedly emphasized that while he loves the Surge, it must be confined to 2007. But what did he say yesterday in the NYT?

But there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008.

I spent yesterday and today reading through virtually all of the writings and interviews of these two Brookings geniuses over the past four years concerning Iraq. There is no coherence or consistency to anything they say. It shifts constantly. They say whatever they need to say at the moment to justify the war for which they bear responsibility. It is exactly like reading through the writings of Bill Kristol, Tom Friedman and every other individual who flamboyantly supported this disaster and -- motivated solely by salvaging their own reputations -- are desperate to find some method to argue that they were right.

Even though I write frequently about how broken and corrupt our establishment media is, witnessing these two war lovers -- supporters of the invasion, advocates of the Surge, comrades of Fred Kagan -- mindlessly depicted all day yesterday by media mouthpieces as the opposite of what they are was really quite startling. After all, there is a record as long as it is clear demonstrating what they really are.

But in order to maximize the potency of their propagandistic Op-Ed, they proclaimed themselves to be "analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq" and -- just like that -- Americans hear all day about the magical and dramatic conversion of these deeply skeptical war opponents who were forced by the Grand Success they witnessed first-hand in Iraq, as much as they hate to do it, to admit oh-so-reluctantly that the Surge really is working! Well, if even these Howard-Dean-like War Opponents say it, it must be true. That was the leading "news" story all day yesterday.

UPDATE: In March, 2003, Michael O'Hanlon -- the Joan Baez of our time -- was one of the signatories to a letter on Iraq policy issued by Project for New American Century, Bill Kristol's warmongering group. Also signing the letter were O'Hanlon's fellow anti-Bush agitators and critics of the Iraq War, such as Max Boot, Frank Carlucci, Eliot Cohen, The Weekly Standard's Reuel Marc Gerecht, Commentary's Joshua Muravchik, the AEI's Danielle Pletka, and the AEI's Gary Schmitt.

Maybe tomorrow Sean Hannity will write a startling Op-Ed announcing that George Bush has been a great President and the media can have another 24-hour lead story about this shocking and revealing development.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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