Michael Gordon "reports" on the "only serious" Iraq option: Staying forever

The pro-war NYT reporter lambastes the presidential candidates for failing to commit to a long-term occupation of Iraq.

By Glenn Greenwald
January 20, 2008 7:49PM (UTC)
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(updated below)

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The New York Times' Michael Gordon -- a long-time, vigorous proponent of both the Iraq War and the Surge while masquerading as a "reporter" (he was once publicly admonished for admitting his pro-Surge views) -- has an article today lambasting Democratic candidates for advocating an end to our occupation of Iraq. Citing pro-war arguments from both anonymous military officers and his standard list of pro-war Serious Experts (Michael O'Hanlon and Anthony Cordesman), Gordon argues that the Only Serious Option is to remain in Iraq for a long, long time, and any politicians who refuses to accept this is being -- for that reason alone -- irresponsible and Unserious.


After recounting all the embedded assignments he had with the military in Iraq, Gordon declares that "the generals and the politicians seem[] not to be talking about the same war," and then explains:

The American officers I met were hardly of one mind on how to proceed in Iraq, but they were grappling with decisions on how to try to stabilize a traumatized country with a hard-headed sense that although there have been significant gains, a long and difficult job still lies ahead -- a core assumption that has frequently been missing on the campaign trail. . . .

On the ground with the troops, it is clear that a major military change was in fact made in Iraq last year -- not so much the addition of 30,000 troops, but the shift to a counterinsurgency strategy for using them. . . . . But counterinsurgency is inherently a long-term proposition, and that assumption has driven much of the military thinking about the future, even as it heightens the political debate at home. . . .

The politicians are suggesting they can produce faster results. But the candidates who have lambasted President Bush for failing to ask the tough questions about what might happen the day after Saddam Hussein was swept from power often don't fully address hard questions about what might happen the day after the American military gets out.

Gordon -- citing the pro-war O'Hanlon -- then goes on to detail what he perceives to be the serious flaws in the pro-withdrawal arguments of Clinton, Obama and Edwards, and concludes as follows:

In the meantime, some senior officers seem utterly puzzled by the debate at home. "The one thing that befuddles is I have not heard any candidate describe what their short and long term goals are for Iraq, how it fits into their regional goals for the Middle East and transnational terrorism," said the American officer. "Is their goal just to withdraw troops as fast as possible?"

To achieve the vaunted journalistic virtue of Balance, Gordon, almost as an afterthought, also criticizes the Republican candidates for being insufficiently specific about what they would do when remaining in Iraq, and criticizes Giuliani for using the term "victory." The theme of the article, however, is that the only Serious Option is to stay, and to stay for a long, long time.


It is not hyperbole to say that the Liberal Media's New York Times bears as much responsibility for both the commencement of the war and its endless duration as any other American institution. Judy Miller and Gordon, of course, jointly led the way in funneling false pro-war claims to the public to justify the invasion, and ever since, its lead reporters on that conflict, Gordon as well as John Burns, have been overt proponents of continuing the war (thus becoming heroes to the pro-war, media-hating Right). It is, then, entirely predictable that we have yet another ostensible "news article" by Gordon today, preaching on the imperatives of our ongoing occupation of Iraq.

Gordon's viewpoint -- that staying is not only right but the only Serious Option -- is, more or less, conventional Beltway wisdom. Yet missing entirely from this analysis is the fact that the vast bulk of Americans -- even in the face of endless claims of Surge Progress -- are more against this war than ever before (.pdf), and -- regardless of claims of Progress -- do not want to continue to support it.

One might think that in an article attacking presidential candidates for advocating withdrawal as they run to represent the public, that fact might be important, but -- especially when it comes to war and occupation -- nothing is less important to our Seriousness Guardians than what the lowly, ignorant American people want. Far more important is what Mike O'Hanlon and Gordon's anonymous military sources think we should do. The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray once expressed Beltway contempt for American public opinion on the War this way:

Washington, D.C.: I am somewhat surprised at the debate about the surge. In October, The Post's own polling showed that 19% of voters favored an immediate withdrawal. Yesterday, CNN reported that more than 50% want an immediate or by year's end withdrawal. Still, the politicians debate more or less, not sooner or later. Why won't the politicians follow the polls when it comes to leaving Iraq?

Shailagh Murray: Would you want a department store manager or orthodontist running the Pentagon? I don't think so. The reason that many politicians are squeamish about hard and fast goals of any kind in Iraq is that there is no simple response or solution -- it would have emerged by now. A withdrawal by year's end carries enormous, very serious implications.

Also excluded from Gordon's pro-war argument -- as always -- is the fact that we have become a weakened and increasingly pathetic debtor nation, and it's perhaps not sustainable any longer to continue to pursue Mike O'Hanlon's Visions of Glorious Imperial Management. In a strangely substantive column today, Maureen Dowd -- who just witnessed the spectacle of Our Commander-in-Chief pleading with inevitable futility that his friends, the Saudis, lower oil prices -- pointed out:

One cascading rationale [Bush] offered for invading Iraq was the benign domino theory, that bringing democracy to Iraq would sway the autocrats in the region to be less repressive.

But when W. visited Saudi Arabia and Egypt last week, he did not have the whip hand. He could not demand anything of the autocrats in the way of more rights for women and dissidents, much less get the Saudis to help on oil production. He needs their help in corralling Iran, which has been puffed up by the occupation of Iraq.

So he was a supplicant in Saudi Arabia. The American economy is a supplicant, too. . . . Now, because of Wall Street's overreaching, our economy depends on foreign oil and foreign loans to stay afloat.

China and Arab countries have a staggering amount of treasury securities. And the oil-rich countries are sitting on so many petrodollars that they are looking beyond prestige hotels and fashion labels and taking advantage of the fire sale to buy eye-popping stakes in our major financial institutions.

No matter what else is true, our sprawling imperialism -- as has been true for every Empire in history -- is simply unsustainable. The very idea of staying in Iraq for the next several decades with tens of thousands of American troops, while we lavishly fund the grotesquely corrupt and un-American Private Republican Army of Blackwater, is both infeasible and self-destructive. Here's what Pat Buchanan -- who, whatever else one might think of him, has been warning of the unsustainability of American imperialism for years -- said about all of this earlier this week:

To stave off recession, the Fed appears anxious to slash interest rates another half-point, if not more. That will further weaken the dollar and raise the costs of the imports to which we have become addicted. While all this is bad news for the Republicans, it is worse news for the republic. As we save nothing, we must borrow both to pay for the imported oil and foreign manufactures upon which we have become dependent.

We are thus in the position of having to borrow from Europe to defend Europe, of having to borrow from China and Japan to defend Chinese and Japanese access to Gulf oil, and of having to borrow from Arab emirs, sultans and monarchs to make Iraq safe for democracy. We borrow from the nations we defend so that we may continue to defend them. To question this is an unpardonable heresy called "isolationism."

One of the aspects of the presidential campaign that makes it so tiresome and depressing is that virtually none of this is even part of the debate, nor can it be. There are some differences about what to do about Iraq, but the basic thrust of American foreign policy is unchallenged by any of the remaining viable candidates in either party.

Yet until we stop operating on the premise that the world is our playground to run and control through military force -- for invasions, bombing campaigns, wars and occupations to be commenced whenever we perceive it to be in our "interests," however broadly that might be defined -- the only real question is how quickly these problems are going to worsen, how severely the accompanying erosion of our national character will become. A country that is defined by endless war and world military hegemony is inevitably, unavoidably, the Nation of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and Torture and Renditions and Limitless Presidential Power and Secret Black Sites and Blackwater. You can't have one without the other. But the Michael Gordons and Michael O'Hanlons care about none of that, if they even think about it at all.

But one can see how entrenched these orthodoxies are when one considers that even the leading reporters from the Liberal Media's anti-war hub -- The New York Times -- and their tiny, narrow O'Hanlon/Cordesman list of Experts, continue to insist that the only Serious Option is to change none of this, and that anyone who suggests otherwise is irresponsible and unserious. With some not unimportant exceptions, that is the enforced message from our Liberal media outlets -- even from their "news reporters" -- to say nothing of the Conservative ones dominated by war-mongering neocons. And thus the only Serious Option is that we stay in Iraq indefinitely, assuming all the costs and risks that doing so entails, regardless of what Americans want and regardless of whether that's a sustainable course. So sayeth NYT "reporter" Michael Gordon and his homogeneous cadre of Serious pro-war friends and sources.

UPDATE: In response to a standard "The-Surge-Is-Working" Op-Ed by Surge Architects Fred Kagan and Jack Keane (joined by the Ubiquitous pro-war "liberal" Michael O'Hanlon), conservative History Professor Andrew Bacevich explains, in a superb analysis, that the "Surge" has succeeded only in one respect (h/t El Cid). It has achieved its true purpose: namely, "ensur[ing] that U.S. troops won't be coming home anytime soon."

Glenn Greenwald

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