A one-day guide to war supporters and their enablers

Today's war-perpetuating behavior from Mike O'Hanlon, Joe Lieberman, John McCain and David Ignatius is an excellent guide for what has happened over the last six years.


Glenn Greenwald
September 10, 2007 5:25PM (UTC)

As war cheerleaders and their enablers lay the groundwork for the glorious testimony of Gen. Petraeus, it is hard to recall a day so suffuse with war propaganda. Reviewing just a few selected samples illustrates how fact-free is the campaign to prolong this war. And the activities of today provide a very vivid guide for identifying those most responsible for launching this war and enabling its endless continuation, and for understanding how they behave.

Let us begin with left-wing, liberal war opponent Michael O'Hanlon, who today finds a home to write about the war in National Review -- long renown for publishing the works of anti-war liberals like O'Hanlon -- alongside Fred Kagan, Mark Steyn, Byron York and John Boehner. O'Hanlon, as usual, predicates his argument on the homage he pays to Gen. Petraeus, declaring in the first sentence: "General Petraeus is a straight shooter who does not and will not cook the books."

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Citing his fellow surge advocate, NYT "reporter" Michael Gordon (who, in turn, featured O'Hanlon as his principal "expert" in his pro-war front page article this weekend), O'Hanlon argues:

Petraeus will argue that the overall situation has improved substantially this year. He will be right to do so, based on virtually any primary-source data I have seen.

Identically, John McCain and Joe Lieberman said in a Wall St. Journal Op-Ed today that it is "undeniable" that "facts on the ground in Iraq have improved."

Perhaps O'Hanlon, McCain and Lieberman have not "seen" this "primary-source data":

Seven out of 10 Iraqis believe the U.S. troop buildup in Baghdad and Anbar province has made security worse in those areas, and nearly as many say their own lives are going badly, according to a new poll conducted by ABC News, the British Broadcasting Corp., and the Japanese broadcaster NHK.

The poll reveals a disconnect between U.S. commanders' view of a steadily improving situation in Iraq and a bleaker outlook among Iraqis. . . . Fewer than one-quarter of Iraqis report that things in Iraq are going well, down from 35 percent in March, while the number of people who expect conditions to improve in the next year has declined precipitously.

When determining whether "progress" is being made, fewer things could be less relevant to our genius war scholars and our DC Establishment pundits than whether the Iraqis whom we have Liberated actually say they are more secure. Far more trustworthy are American War Supporters and Members of Congress who take week-long, highly planned jaunts to Iraq, spend every night protected in the Green Zone, spend their days talking to American military officials, and then return and declare Iraq to be Much Safer. That is much more reliable. But whatever else is true, the viewpoint of actual Iraqi is fairly compelling "primary source data" suggesting that Gen. Petraeus' sunny claims about Iraq are anything but "undeniable."

O'Hanlon and his friends -- in order to create a fictitious appearance of consensus concerning Gen. Petraeus' claims -- are deliberately ignoring all sorts of other evidence undermining Petraeus' assertions, literally pretending it does not exist, such as this superb article in the Washington Post several days ago by Karen DeYoung, which documented:

The U.S. military's claim that violence has decreased sharply in Iraq in recent months has come under scrutiny from many experts within and outside the government, who contend that some of the underlying statistics are questionable and selectively ignore negative trends. . . .

Others who have looked at the full range of U.S. government statistics on violence, however, accuse the military of cherry-picking positive indicators and caution that the numbers -- most of which are classified -- are often confusing and contradictory. "Let's just say that there are several different sources within the administration on violence, and those sources do not agree," Comptroller General David Walker told Congress on Tuesday in releasing a new Government Accountability Office report on Iraq.

Statements from O'Hanlon, Lieberman and McCain that Petraeus' claims of improved security are "undeniable" are patently false. Most Iraqis deny them, as do actual experts who are not invested in perpetuating the war and whose credibility has not been destroyed by years of false statements concerning the war.

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Speaking of which, O'Hanlon -- in demanding that Gen. Petraeus be blindly deemed a "straight shooter" -- simply ignores the obviously critical fact that Petraeus has been making the same exact claims about Great Progress in Iraq for four straight years, only for events to prove those statements repeatedly to be inaccurate. O'Hanlon does, however, address one of the most incriminating actions Petraeus undertook -- namely, publishing a highly controversial and highly optimistic Op-Ed in The Washington Post just weeks before the 2004 Presidential election, in which Petraeus made one optimistic claim after the next about Iraq, proclaiming:

Now, however, 18 months after entering Iraq, I see tangible progress. Iraqi security elements are being rebuilt from the ground up. . . .

Iraq's security forces are, however, developing steadily and they are in the fight. Momentum has gathered in recent months. With strong Iraqi leaders out front and with continued coalition -- and now NATO -- support, this trend will continue.

O'Hanlon acknowledges Petraeus' Op-Ed, but literally decrees -- with no rationale -- that it should not be used to treat Petraeus' motives and statements with skepticism:

Some of Petraeus’s critics will argue, as they already have, that he wrote an oped in the fall of 2004 that was too optimistic about the training of Iraqi Security Forces then — and too closely timed to the American elections that November. To them, that suggests he was and is acting as an agent of White House spin. That oped may in retrospect have been somewhat too optimistic; I was wrong then myself in believing that a very vigorous training program we had created for the Iraqis would suffice to create a professional, dependable force. . . .

However, a possible misjudgment on this matter hardly shows Petraeus to be a spinmeister. If anything, it shows him to be human.

Absolutely. That Petraeus merely published an inaccurately optimistic picture of the war in Iraq at exactly the time -- and in exactly the venue -- most politically beneficial to President Bush's re-election prospects proves nothing. It certainly doesn't mean Petraeus' identical claims of Progess three years later should be viewed with skepticism. No -- O'Hanlon movingly tells us -- it only proves that Petraeus is "human." O'Hanlon here is invoking one of Washington's most cherished rules: for War Supporters, there is never accountability for their "mistakes" nor for their endless record of inaccurate statements.

And then, finally, we arrive at the co-dependent partners of our propagandizing war supporters -- the frightened, mindless Democratic Beltway class, always ably represented by The Washington Post's David Ignatius. They, too, are out in full force today, playing their war enabling role.

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Ignatius bases his entire column on the trite and fact-free claims of an anonymous "leading Democratic Party strategist." Both Ignatius and his cowardly anonymous friend believe that President Bush is on his way to doing what Democrats want -- "announcing that he will begin reducing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq this year" -- and the primary challenge for Democrats is not to get in the way of the President by giving into their loudmouth radical base and thereby constraining the Leader. Here is the rationale for this brilliant position:

That's the smart Democratic strategy, he argues, to take credit for altering the course of the war. "We have to stop saying we're going to end the war, because we can't," the strategist cautions. But he fears that congressional Democrats, pushed by an angry base, will continue to schedule votes for funding cutoffs and troop-withdrawal dates. That may appeal to the base but not to the country as a whole, the strategist fears.

Do Democratic Beltway "strategists" ever do anything but "fear"? And is it even possible that Ignatius and the anonymous strategist coward hiding behind him actually believe this? For a full year now at least, one poll after the next has proven exactly the opposite to be true: namely, the overwhelming majority of Americans, not merely the radical unserious filthy leftist Move-On/Kos hippies, want a mandatory timetable for withdrawal.

The new poll from the NYT just this morning (.pdf) is just the latest example, demonstrating that Americans overwhelmingly (57-38%) believe "the United States should set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq sometime in 2008." How is it possible for Ignatius to continue to be published asserting that only the "base," but not the country as a whole, favors this?

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The common thread uniting war supporters like O'Hanlon and Lieberman and their enablers like Ignatius and his anonymous friends is a willful ignoring of any facts that interrupt their self-glorying Seriousness festivals. And along those lines, Ignatius, as he typically does, reveals the true illness underlying our Establishment's behavior here, as he describes the real group that ought to be Listened To:

Centrist Democrats and Republicans -- "the responsibles," as Charles Peters of Washington Monthly likes to call them. . .

This group is "responsible" all right -- responsible for the greatest strategic disaster in America's history, the endless empowerment of the President who unleashed it, and a disgustingly self-serving campaign to deny reality and ensure the war's continuation all in order to salvage their own egos and reputations. Today provides a truly superb picture of the fact-free warmongers, ideologues and extremists -- and their enabling Serious "centrist" comrades -- who are "responsible" for the grave damage done to our country over the last six years, with no end in sight.


Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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