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Sunday, September 10, 2006

McIlheran Watch: Patrick McIlheran is a liar and a smarmy fraud

There are times when I treat the Mac with humor or condescension. Not today. I'm feeling pessimistic this weekend, in large part because of the divisiveness apparent in this country's approach to the anniversary of 9/11. Republicans are politicizing it; ABC is lying about what happened; and George W. Bush is trying to make us think that our continuing presence in Iraq is the moral and military equivalent of World War II. Democrats just want some peace.

That's why I have no patience for McIlheran this week: He is a liar and a smarmy fraud.

I'm not even going to touch his op-ed from today, which is based on research from noted liar, dissembler, fraud, chicken, and sock-puppeteer John Lott, who should never ever be given credence on any matter again after the crap he's pulled. That alone ought to be enough to get McIlheran's "Junior Wurlitzer League" card revoked.

No, I'm talking about McIlheran's blogging from this weekend. This will be long, but, sorry, I have a blog and I must vent.

You can read McIlheran's blog here, and I'll link to the specific posts when I talk about them. But right now the links to the individual posts are turning up runtime errors from the Journal Sentinel's servers. (One can hope that maybe it's the engineers working on adding comments to the Journal Corp blogging software!) If the permalinks aren't working, just click the link above and read down to the appropriate dates.

See if you can see what is is about this entry from Saturday that raised my ire:
But Italy never attacked us at Pearl Harbor
I cheated; I only gave you the headline, which was it. Kind of gave it away. He's trying to make an equivalence between anti-Iraq war activists, who rightly say that Iraq didn't attack us on September 11, and World War II. The duh answer to that is twofold: One, Italy's ally attacked us at Pearl Harbor. Two, Italy declared war on the United Stated on December 11, 1941, just four days after the Pearl Harbor attack.

I guess the United States was just supposed to sit around while a world military power currently beating up on our own allies declared war on us? When the US was attacked in 1941, we responded miliatrily against those who attacked us, and against their allies who declared war on us. When the US was attacked in 2001, we responded militarily against those who attacked us and their allies in Afghanistan.

Sadly, since 2001, we have let those who attacked us escape and allowed their allies to make a resurgence. In 1941--and in pressing that fight in the years following--the US and our allies fully defeated not only Japan but their allies in Europe. At no point did we find ourselves distracted by a second, unrelated and unnecessary fight.

But back to Mac. He derides a Senate Intelligence Committee report from this past week which makes it clear that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda were not in cahoots. He does this by citing conservative commentators who lack access to the classified information and by attacking ad hominem one of the staffers involved in writing the report. (He does not deride President Bush for making the same claim in a press conference two weeks ago.) But then he says,
Iraq was unconnected to 9-11 only if you view 9-11 as a matter of al-Qaida vs. the U.S.
Oh, well that explains it! Maybe we weren't al Qaeda's target five years ago--maybe the hijackers overshot Mexico and hit New York and Washington, DC, on accident. Or maybe they weren't al Qaeda after all, but renegade Cubans. Let's see how McIlheran explains this away:
The point President Bush had been making from the beginning was that al-Qaida, while bad, was part of something larger, something he's finally gotten around to calling Islamic fascism--the anti-Western impulse that is similarly behind a swath of violence since the 1970s.

And while rounding up al-Qaida was imperative, their places would be taken by other bomb-wearers unless the rotted political culture that spawned them were fixed. Bush was citing the spread of democracy as a reason to topple Saddam before the war began, while in 2001 he was warning that anyone not cooperating with us after 9-11 was in for it. By either measure, Iraq, with its unparalled culture of oppression and its known sheltering of jihadists of a variety of stripes, fits the indictment.

When the left complains, then, that Iraq didn't cause 9-11, ask: Where would have have [sic] taken the war on the jihadists?
This is staggeringly wrong. Just . . . staggeringly wrong. Go back and re-read those three paragraphs again, slowly, and just soak in their wrongness. This sentence, for example, blows me away:
And while rounding up al-Qaida was imperative, their places would be taken by other bomb-wearers unless the rotted political culture that spawned them were fixed.
I think we can all agree that the sentiment behind this sentence is not wrong. Clearly, there is a political, social, and economic confluence that allowed some parts of the middle east to produce anti-Western jihadists who attacked us and our interests throughout the nineties and on September 11, 2001.

None of those jihadis were from Iraq, and to use this logic as justification for our entry or perhaps even our continued presence in Iraq is misdirection and lying on a grand scale. I don't know how someone can do that and face himself in the mirror every day.

I'm not sure what he means in his last sentence--"Where would have have taken the war on the jihadists?"--but I can only assume he wants to know where Democrats would have taken the war on jihadists. I doubt they would have taken that war to Iraq. Consider:
  • While we know Hussein was supporting Palestinian suicide bombers, we also know that he was not the only one; at least two US allies in the region, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, were allowing charities based in those coutries to pay terrorists. Beyond that, the Palestinian terrorists are a different flavor of terrorist than the jihadis typified by al Qaeda. Rather than exercising general anti-Western sentiment--the Palestinians were out to win concessions from Israel, a country they saw as occupying land rightfully theirs. And as we have seen, removing Saddam from power has not slowed down the onslaught of Palestinian suicide bombers. Strike one.
  • It is true that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was in Iraq; he was in a part of Iraq not under Saddam's direct control and Saddam, in fact, tried to have him captured or killed (a fact Dick Cheney seems to be unaware of, calling Zarqawi this morning "the link" between Iraq and al Qaeda). It is also true that the US had the chance to get Zarqawi in 2002 and chose not to, expressly because it "could undercut [the US] case for war against Saddam." There were plenty of nations and world leaders who harbored and supported al Qaeda more readily and more thoroughly than Iraq and Hussein--many of them our allies, like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. al Qaeda operated throughout West Africa, as well. The one place al Qaeda was not welcome was in the secular dictatorship of Iraq. Strike two.
  • In addition to not breeding jihadis who were a threat to the US, Hussein's Iraq was simply not a threat to us as a nation, either. We can debate whether Bush lied, or whether evidence was deliberately suppressed showing that intelligence pointing to an active and threatening WMD program was weak and likely wrong. Either way, it was clear by the time the first bombs fell in March 2003 that there was no WMD program, no large stockpiles of dangerous WMD, and no chance that Saddam would have a nuclear weapon before his mustache turned gray and fell into his bowl of humus. There were plenty of places that had active WMD programs--North Korea and Iran, for example--and places where there was (and remains) a real danger of WMD falling into terrorists' hands (like former Soviet republics). Strike three.
Democrats, Mr. Mac, would have put all of that together and recognized that, wherever the best place to take the war on jihadists might have been, Iraq was not it.

The deception and contortion necessary to believe that Iraq was the logical next step in the war on terror--as changed by the events five years ago tomorrow--are enormous, and any columnst of any stature should be embarrassed to engage in them willingly. McIlheran is an apologist for a presidency that has not made us safer and has not made the world safer. Indeed, McIlheran is a willing dupe, condescendingly wagging his finger at us know-nothings while whitewashing what is an agenda that, for anyone paying attention, is not related to terror at all.

Glenn Greenwald brought this home last week when considering the lies perpetrated by ABC's "Path to 9/11" docu-drama, which lays almost all of the blame for 9/11 at the feet of Bill Clinton. Don't you think, Glenn asks, if the Republicans really believed that Clinton-Gore blew it on terror, that would have been a central part of Bush's 2000 campaign? Makes sense. But it is not so:
Prominent Republican elected officials were not criticizing Clinton for paying insufficient attention to Al Qaeda. George Bush barely said a word about Islamic terrorism during the entire presidential campaign--throughout 1999 and then through all of 2000--and to the extent Republicans spoke about Clinton's anti-terrorism efforts at all, it was to criticize them for being too bellicose, too militaristic, and just unnecessary.

The 2000 Republican Party Platform contains 13 specific criticisms of the Clinton Administration's foreign and military policies. Not a single one mentions or refers in any way to Al Qaeda or terrorism generally. [. . .] Even the section of the Platform entitled "Terrorism, International Crime, and Cyber Threats" makes not one reference to Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, or Islamic extremism. It does not contain a single claim that the Clinton administration was insufficiently aggressive towards Islamic terrorists, nor does it advocate increased militarism in the Middle East or against terrorists. In fact, to the extent Republicans advocated a new approach at all, it was to emphasize the need for the very "law enforcement" and "domestic preparedness" approaches which they now claim to disdain.

George Bush's 2000 Republican National Convention acceptance speech contained a slew of specific criticisms of the Clinton administration, along with a series of specific foreign policy goals. He never mentioned or even alluded to the threat of terrorism, Islamic extremism, or the need for increased aggression against Middle Eastern supporters of terrorism. In fact, to the extent Bush criticized the use of military force at all, it was to imply that it was not used sparingly or discriminatingly enough. [. . .] Then-Governor Bush also engaged in three lengthy presidential debates with Al Gore and never once criticized the Clinton administration's handling of terrorism. He never once advocated increased aggression or urged that more attention be paid to that threat. Again, to the extent he criticized the Clinton administration's foreign policy, it was to criticize the excessive use of military force.
"Well, 9/11 changed everything," you may be thinking in response. Well, no, it didn't change enough. More from Greenwald, with my emphasis:
After that, there is an entire section entitled "The Middle East and Persian Gulf" that deals extensively with Iraq and the alleged threat posed by Saddam Hussein, but it does not say a word--not a single word--about Islamic extremism, Al Qaeda, or Osama bin Laden. [. . .]

In the second presidential debate, Bush was specifically asked what differences there would be between his foreign policy and the Clinton administration's policy towards the Middle East:
MODERATOR: People watching here tonight are very interested in Middle East policy, and they are so interested they want to base their vote on differences between the two of you as president how you would handle Middle East policy. Is there any difference?

GORE: I haven't heard a big difference in the last few exchanges.

BUSH: That's hard to tell. I think that, you know, I would hope to be able to convince people I could handle the Iraqi situation better. . . .
In 2000, the Republicans and candidate Bush were concerned about one thing: Iraq. Barbara O'Brien writes today about how Iraq was in the cards within the first days after 9/11. And, of course, there was Bob Woodward's book. McIlheran, by continuing to make excuses for the president and the war in Iraq that clearly he wanted before he was elected, is doing a tremendous disservice to his readers, and he makes himself look like nothing more than a patsy. "Where would you have attacked," he mockingly wonders, and then, probably, pats himself on the back for showing us libs what's what. In reality, Mr. Mac, you're the one getting played. You're the one looking foolish.

And that smarmy question--"Where would have have taken the war on the jihadists?"--is just the second biggest crock in the post, though important. It buys completely into the presupposition that the best way to fight stateless jihadi terrorists is to invade a state. I am not the Democrats' premiere foreign policy expert, but even I can see that the way to stop terror cells in Madrid or London or Bali or even Saudi Arabi and the Sudan is not to invade Iraq.

The biggest crock in the post is, of course, that the current conflict is the equivalent of World War II. It is not, for several reasons. As noted, we are not fighting states. We cannot go off and invade and take and hold territory belonging to a military power the way we did in the Pacific, Europe, and Africa. Calling al Qaeda and its ilk fascists no more makes them fascists than my calling a banana an orange makes that banana into an orange. When you start calling what we fight to day fascism, you lose a perfectly good word to describe actual fascists--people like Italy's Moussolini. When Roosevelt took us to war, he asked Americans to sacrifice and set a somber and severe tone for the fighting that assuredly would take many thousands of American lives. When taking us to war against terror, Bush asked us to keep shopping, morphed Democratic US Senator Max Cleland into bin Laden in a campaign commercial to win in 2002, used images flag-draped coffins at Ground Zero to win in 2004, will use 9/11 families to promote torture to win in 2006, and gets completely flustered and petulant when asked what winning this war might mean. If you want us to believe we're fighting WWIII, then give us something more than dirty tricks and directions to the mall. Give us something more than unrelated invasions and belligerent demands to "stay the course."

I know I have ranted through too many screens already, but consider my verbiage to be a correlate to how infuriating McIlheran is to me. In today's post (a reminder that the link may not work), McIlheran goes off on Juan Cole:
[Cole, in today's paper] mainly is saying that al-Qaida's kind of winning, it's provoked by our policies, and the war is all really a plot by Bush to hold on to the prerogatives of being a war president. This must all somehow seem self-evident to people who have plugged their heads into the MoveOn Matrix.

But consider: As another Crossroads piece, this one by William Dobson, points out, from 9-11 through 2005, 18,944 people around the world died via terrorism. Eight of them were on American soil. Not that fate needs tempting, but the fact that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the 9-11 mastermind, Ramzi Yousef, who planned the '93 World Trade Center hit, and dozens of other al-Qaida leaders are in the slam or dead suggests that the failure of al-Qaida to kill a few thousand more Americans is no mere coincidence.

Beyond that, Cole contends that far from being a clash of civilizations, the jihadist assault on us (though he never manages to say "jihadist," tellingly) is really the reaction to what we've done--supported Israel, sent soldiers to the Middle East.
This belies a number of widely available facts: first, bin Laden himself made it clear at the start that his campaign against, in particular, the United States, was predicated on a US presence in Saudi Arabia (notice that Bush "cut and ran" from Saudi Arabia as soon as he had bases in Iraq). In addition, it's clear that there is "growing evidence [in the intelligence community] that al Qaeda might not have been trying to attack the United States in the three years since its singular triumph of 9/11." In other words, al Qaeda hasn't hit us not because of Bush's almighty wall of fire around us, but rather because they have been biding their time. It took eight years between al Qaeda attacks on US soil, not because we stopped one every other week, but because there is a method to their madness.

To top it off, there is no question that the frequency and intensity of terror activity--particularly attacks planned, whether executed or not, by al Qaeda--has skyrocketed around the world since 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. Every day, it seems, we learn of some plot somewhere that belies the notion that we are fighting them in Iraq so we don't have to fight them somewhere else.

So, again, Patrick McIlheran is spinning and fronting for this administration, peddling half-truths and outright fraud to, smiling, repeat the Bush line on Iraq. The amount of dishonesty in just one weekend's worth of blog posts is staggeringly offensive.

McIlheran takes the opportunity of the fifth anniversary of the most deadly attack ever on American soil to wag his finger, talk down to those who disagree with him, and lie about it all.

Ironically--if you've made it this far, you deserve something positive--it is my rival Cheddarspherean Rick Esenberg who provides perhaps the best of the 9/11 pieces in the paper this morning. He captures much of what I feel on this anniversay, writing,
I recall Sept. 11 as a numbing day. It was impossible to work and hard to think. At least for me, a more considered reaction came later. Even five years after, there is little that can provoke the same combination of grief and anger, of tears and resolve. [. . .] How could such destruction happen so quickly? How could it have been brought about by a small and unremarkable group of men who seemed, in their misguided beliefs, more pathetic than dangerous What is it in the grotesqueries of radical Islam that would prompt someone to self-immolation and indiscriminate slaughter? We all saw what happened, but it seemed then--and still seems today--implausible.

If you walk across the street, you enter the grounds of St. Paul's Episcopal Chapel. St. Paul's became a respite for emergency responders in the days following 9-11 and is today something of a memorial to what followed the collapse of the towers. Its tiny sanctuary is filled with badges and patches from responders across the nation. There are letters from loved ones of those who died a few hundred feet away and condolences from those who lived on the other side of the planet. There were drawings from children and photographs of the heroism that followed hard upon the hijackers' bloodlust.

St. Paul's is a reminder that the incredible evil wrought by a few was met by the self-emptying love and charity of the many. We must remember the threat that resulted in that gaping emptiness where the towers once stood.

We must also remember the hope that was found at the little church across the street.
I began this long post--if you can remember that far back--by saying that I felt pessimistic about the way this fifth anniversary is happening, and this is very much because I remember the near-instant unity and hope that came on 9/11. On September 10, we were a vividly divided nation. On September 12, we were united. We're not united anymore, ladies and gentleman. And while radical Islamic jihad may not be the fault of George W. Bush, this disunity is. When Patrick McIlheran shills for that man and the hope he exploited in the months after 9/11, he spits on the grave of every American who died that day.

And I cannot let it happen in silence.

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