Friday, August 17, 2007

Lies, More Lies and the Lying Liars in Iraq!

Last week the New York Times ran an op-ed that buzzed around the Internet and other publications. In it two Brookings Institution scholars, Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, asserted that we could win in Iraq. They had been over there on a fact finding trip and found that soldiers’ morale was higher than it has been in a long time. According to them, the soldiers felt a renewed sense of purpose, were enthusiastic about their mission, and believed they were accomplishing their military goals. The scholars also found there was more cooperation between the Americans and Iraqis, who were forging new alliances.

To be sure, both O’Hanlon and Pollack cautioned that these gains were modest. And our notion of victory would have to be redefined to acknowledge less grandiose goals than we had originally envisioned. But, they concluded, the gains we’ve made and the renewed hope for leaving a stabilized country were worth staying the course into 2008.

What made these revelations so startling that both the mainstream press and bloggers immediately picked up the story and spread it across the media landscape was the authors’ claim that they were long time critics of the war effort.

Ask yourself – and be very, very honest here – if this article and its conclusions had been reported by two scholars billing themselves as long time staunch supporters of the invasion who had simply grown disillusioned with the Bush administration’s botching of the war, would it have had the same universal impact?

Probably not.

In fact, it would have been viewed as more “happy talk” disconnected from reality. And it turns out this is exactly the case.

As this expose from Glenn Greenwald at shows, both O’Hanlon and Pollack actually were long time supporters of the invasion of Iraq and efforts to depose Saddam Hussein. I already noted in a previous post on this topic that Kenneth Pollack was author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. Since that time, I’ve done more research and found out that O’Hanlon was every bit as much a hawk as his colleague. Not only that, but it turns out their whole trip was paid for by the military. Here’s the quote from Greenwald:

...O'Hanlon's answers, along with several other facts now known, demonstrate rather conclusively what a fraud this Op-Ed was, and even more so, the deceitfulness of the intense news coverage it generated. Most of the critical attention in the immediate aftermath of the media blitz focused on the misleading depiction of the pro-war Pollack and O'Hanlon as "critics of the administration." To his credit, O'Hanlon acknowledged (in my interview with him, though never in any of the media appearances he did) that many of the descriptions applied to him -- including Dick Cheney's claim that the Op-Ed was written by "critics of the war" -- were inaccurate:

Indeed, as I documented previously and as he affirmed in the interview, O'Hanlon was, from the beginning, a boisterous supporter of the invasion of Iraq. While he debated what the optimal war strategy was, once it became clear exactly what strategy Bush would use, O'Hanlon believed -- and forcefully argued -- that George Bush was doing the right thing by invading Iraq...

Since that op-ed appeared, a more realistic article about the nature of the new alliances in Iraq ran in the Washington Post. Secular Sunnis, disgruntled with al Qaeda in Iraq’s excessive piety, have cut their ties to that organization and are trying to forge relationships with the Shiite power structure by aiding the U.S. so they can get a seat at the table in the new government. And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. It is a hopeful sign that Sunnis both want to participate in the government and see us as a preferable alternative to extremist groups like al Qaeda. But they are motivated by narrow self-interest not a great vision of building a democratic nation for all Iraqis.

Despite that more cynical assessment of the Sunni's motives, O’Hanlon and Pollack are not entirely wrong when they argue against leaving Iraq too hastily because of the very real dangers of further destabilizing that country. That’s also my argument for not pulling out too quickly.
If O’Hanlon and Pollack had been honest in revealing their true position, it would not have automatically negated their argument because every opinion piece should stand on its own merits and on the evidence presented, not the authors’ previous views.

But the simple truth is that O’Hanlon, Pollack, and the New York Times misrepresented who the authors were to create a buzz that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

There was more than meets the eye in their disingenuous self-definition. But there was also less than meets the eye in their arguments, which have already blown up in their face just as lethally as the latest car bomb explosion in Qataniyah and Jazeera, which killed 250 people, the most deadly attack to date.

And news reports on TV and NPR demonstrate that our troops, far from being re-energized, are exhausted. Their families are also exhausted and discouraged with the long deployments. Our resources have been stretched woefully thin because of this war.

It’s time to plug our ears to the siren song that we can win anything worth having over there and to get over the rightwing attack machine that insists that telling the truth is defeatist. No, it’s not. It’s just a refusal to continue to be stupid. We do need a cautious strategy that gets our troops out of harms’ way without further destabilizing the region. I’ve already dealt with that here and here. Nothing O’Hanlon and Pollack have said has changed my position. But it has altered my respect for the New York Times for going along with this last ditch charade.

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