Guess who called U.S. troops "thugs"

Imagine the stink if anyone with less military credibility than Gen. David Petraeus -- or worse, a Democrat -- had described American soldiers this way?

By Gabriel Winant
Published October 10, 2008 8:55PM (EDT)

One might expect Republicans to have a little more shame about bringing up Bill Ayers to tarnish Barack Obama, in light of the fact that John McCain himself has hardly let a public appearance go by without effusive praise for a man who lately called American soldiers “thugs.”

Of course, it helps McCain's case considerably that the person who said this was an American soldier himself. And not just any American soldier, but Gen. David Petraeus, who made the crack Wednesday in a speech he gave to the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Petraeus, naturally, was sort of joking, and he was talking about the Revolutionary War. But the point is still significant. The headline after Petraeus’ talk was that, intentionally or not, he seemed to echo Obama on the necessity of negotiating with hostile nations.

“You have to talk to the enemy,” the general said, and pointed out that the British “sat down with thugs throughout their history, including us, I suspect.” While the notion that one country’s thug is another’s revolutionary isn’t exactly new, it’s difficult to imagine who else could say such a thing to the Heritage crowd and avoid being crucified for cowardice and moral relativism. If an associate of Obama had said the “thugs” line, I imagine we’d be hearing about it from Sarah Palin right about now.

Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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