Various items

The numbers tell the story of the Iraq War. Which is the least liked institution in America? Putting Gen. Petraeus' claims of Progress into perspective.


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Glenn Greenwald
August 11, 2007 3:55PM (UTC)

(updated below)

(1) As Greg Sargent first noted, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies accompanied Ken Pollack and Mike O'Hanlon on their storied 8-day-field-trip to Iraq and reached a much different conclusion than they did ("my perceptions of a recent trip to Iraq are different from that of two of my traveling companions and those of several other recent think tank travelers to the country"). [My article concerning just how massive a fraud was this trip, subsequent Pollack/O'Hanlon Op-Ed and follow-up frenzied media coverage -- based, among other things, on my interview with O'Hanlon -- will be published tomorrow.]

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Prior to the issuance of Cordesman's report, Pollack went on television and insinuated that Cordesman shared the conclusions he and O'Hanlon reached, as when, for instance, he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer: "And it's one of the first things we should say, which is Mike and I, and, also, our colleague Tony Cordesman, who all traveled together, we came back optimistic -- but very guardedly optimistic."

Cordesman's full report (.pdf) is well worth reading. It includes the following:


These facts are not new, but it is so striking how rarely one encounters them, even for those who read extensively about the war. I would be interested in seeing polling data as to what percentage of American realize that our invasion has resulted in the displacement of four million human beings, the deaths of "at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians" (and, indirectly, many more), and "severe hardship" suffered by at least 8 million Iraqis. These facts are virtually whitewashed from our public discourse by the opinion-making guardians who are responsible for this war and want to avoid recognition of what they have unleashed.

The war cheered on -- still -- by the Brookings Institution and the Washington Post and Tom Friedman and the Foreign Policy Community and Bill Kristol and his comrades has decimated and continues to decimate the lives of millions of innocent Iraqis. The ethnic cleansing and genocide which they manipulatively invoke with such solemn and profound concern in order to justify staying has already occurred and continues unabated, thanks to them.

What we have done and continue to do in Iraq is monumentally grotesque and the cold and inescapable facts which demonstrate that are barely acknowledged. Worst of all, of course, is that those responsible have not only evaded accountability, but continue to occupy the positions of greatest influence and establishment credibility.

(2) After six years of George Bush, right-wing control of Congress, neoconservative dominance, endless liberty-infringement and lawbreaking at home, and the Iraq War, what is the most disliked institution in America? According to the new Pew Poll:


Notably, there is an erosion in the favorability of virtually every political and media institution in the United States, but the Republican Party is at the very bottom -- lower than the press, the judges, the liberals, the Congress and all of its other Evil bogeymen. Yet the Democrats continue to give them whatever they want, dreadfully fearful of their great power and popularity.

(3) In the wake of last month's appearance by Gen. Petraues on the Hugh Hewitt Show, I had an e-mail exchange with Gen. Petraeus' Press Officer, Col. Steven Boylan, concerning my (futile) efforts to interview Gen. Petraeus -- an interview to be broadcast on the Alan Colmes Show and published in Salon -- regarding the years-long list of sunny, optimistic reports Petraeus gave to the country about the war in Iraq, sunny reports which turned out, time and again, not to materialize. At the end of the exchange, which made extremely clear that I would not be interviewing Gen. Petraeus, Col. Boylan said:

On a side note, if Alan Colmes is interested in having Gen Petraeus on his program, then I would ask that someone from his program or himself contact me to discuss.

As a result of that exchange, Colmes did submit an interview request, and it was magically granted. On Tuesday night, Petraeus appeared on Colmes' radio show, and the full interview can be read here. Though I would have conducted the interview differently, Colmes did ask Petraeus about much of the material from the above-linked post regarding his history of happy reports from Iraq. The following exchange ensued:

COLMES: You've been -- you've come under fire in the press in this country for a series of positive reports as far back as 2004 when you actually appeared with Charlie Rose and you talked with reconciliation and progress along those lines. In 2005, when you made a presentation, I believe it was at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, and you showed pictures of Sunnis and Shiites standing together. You talked about huge progress on November 7, 2005 being made in training Iraqi Combined (ph) troops.

Do you still stand by all of those statements or has time shown in some of those cases the progress to which you were referring was not exactly as great as may have been implied?

PETRAEUS: No, I certainly do.

For the full flavor, one should read the entire Petraeus answer, as he goes on to claim that he tempered those statements with words of caution, and to blame the subsequent failure of this vaunted progress on various acts of violence that he claims could not have been anticipated. Nonetheless, this underscores several critical facts which no accurate media account of his "highly-anticipated" September appearance can exclude:

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(a) When Gen. Petraeus comes in September to laud the Great Progress of the Surge, this will be nothing new. Gen. Petraeus has been telling Americans for years -- since at least 2004 -- that we have been making Great Progress in Iraq.

(b) There is no drama or anticipation about what Gen. Petraeaus will say in September, so it is misleading for the media to build this event up as some sort of Suspensful Unveiling of the Truth.

We know already what he will say -- the same thing he has been saying about Iraq for years now ("COLMES: General, is the surge working? PETRAEUS: Well, it is. We are making progress. We have achieved tactical momentum in many areas . . . Having said that, there are innumerable challenges. And obviously an enormous amount of hard work remains to be done"). He will say what George Bush has been saying -- things are progressing and succeeding, but our job is not done, so we need to stay. He has said that already numerous times.

(c) Gen. Petraeus' explanations as to why his prior, highly optimistic reports did not materialize -- i.e., because of subsequent acts of violence such as the February, 2006 Samara bombing which could not be anticipated -- do not withstand scrutiny. Many of Petraeus' most publicized and influential statements of Great Progress concerned the supposedly vast improvements in Iraqi troop readiness. Those claims -- for whatever reasons -- simply turned out to be false, and subsequent acts of violence do not explain why the Iraqi troops whose readiness he was lauding turned out to be so unreliable.

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Whatever else is true, as we decide (a) what the true state of affairs is in Iraq and (b) what we will do about Iraq, we must take into account the past conduct and claims of various individuals who want to exert influence over those perceptions now. And we should not be relying -- certainly not primarily -- on those who either (a) have been swooning for years about how great things are in Iraq and/or (b) who have a significant personal investment in having the invasion, and especially the Surge, be perceived as a success.

Gen. Petraeus most certainly falls into category (a) and likely into category (b) as well. That is not necessarily a reflection of his integrity. Military commanders are trained to believe that they can succeed in their mission and thus naturally present optimistic pictures -- often unduly optimistic pictures -- of the state of their wars. The point here is that nothing warrants holding up Gen. Petraeus as the Ultimate Objective and Infallible Authority on the state of affairs in Iraq, and there is plenty that counsels against doing so.

Finally, it should be noted that unlike the press and the right-wing movement, Americans understand the difference between (a) skepticism towards claims by the military about wars and (b) hostility towards The Troops. As the Pew Poll data cited above indicates, Americans overwhelmingly express favorable views towards the military (84%), which obviously includes huge numbers (most) who oppose the Iraq War. Nonetheless, a very substantial number of Americans view claims from military commanders about the war with a substantial (and healthy) dose of skepticism:


Whatever else is true, our nation's journalists ought to report that the highly positive and optimistic claims of Progress which Gen. Petraeus will be defending in September are quite similar to a series of virtually identical claims he has made about this war for years. Americans, with all of the relevant facts conveyed, can then make up their own minds about how much weight to give his latest claims of Progress.

UPDATE: Rep. Jan Schakowsky returned from Iraq and, among other things, reported that "Petraeus told her 'the U.S. would be in Iraq for 9-10 years if we want to win.'" She also reported that the Surge was failing and, most importantly, pointed out this:

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It concerns me that they're building up enthusiastically in much the same way that we led up to the vote and then the war in October 2002 and then March of 2003. It does worry me that some the media is buying in. . . .

What I feel is going on right now is that there's a major PR effort going on to convince the Congress and the media and the public that just enough progress has been made to justify staying. A little more, and then maybe a little more, and a little more -- perhaps to where Petraeus has said 9 or 10 years have elapsed. Calling for patience is not at this point going to work with the American people, and I'm hoping . . . .are just too smart to be fooled again.

That is exactly what is happening. The Pollack/O'Hanlon fraud was a major part of this. Mike Allen recently described how politicized the U.S. military's communication operations has become as part of this "major PR effort." And as the Pollack/O'Hanlon media blitz demonstrated, as does the all-too-familiar and amazingly creepy canonization rituals directed at Gen. Petraeus, the template for this offensive is the same one used in 2002 and 2003 -- executed by the very same people -- to induce the country into supporting the invasion in the first place.


Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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