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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Unreliable General

by folkbum

Yesterday, Bert pointed out that General David Petraeus, despite how chiseled his jaw or how nice a guy he may seem, ought to be approached with a deserved skepticism. It's the job of the Congress to be adversarial--not in the sense of immediately disagreeing with anyone before them, but in the sense of testing what those people have to say to find if they are trustworthy and, ultimately, truthful. This is ultimately also the job of the media; Bert pointed to Jon Stewart's examination of Petraeus, and it kind of makes me sad the the best adversarial journalism is being done right now by a fake news show.

So it's no surprise that erstwhile media figure and current journalism instructor Jessica McBride is so willing to roll over and abdicate the role of media adversary. This goes back to the "A Challenge for Liberals" post that I mentioned earlier this week. Read the comments following her post, as they are perhaps one of the most concise demonstrations of just how far divorced from reality--and how unwilling to test for the truth--conservatives have become.

If you recall, that post simply asked Democrats to explain how they feel about what she saw as an equivalence between us and Osama bin Laden. The next-to-last comment is McBride's final attempt at a rebuttal to me; it is an all-caps whine-fest. There is a lot of insanity in it, as well, but I want to highlight just a couple of the all-caps pieces.

The reason, of course, is that in an adversarial system, be it a courtroom, a two-party system of government, or the fourth estate versus the second, that's the other side's job: Test, and if the opposition is found lacking, point it out.

Why would we say that Bush lied? Because, you know, he did. We have known for years, for example, that the intelligence he passed on to the Congress about Iraq in 2002 was incomplete, lacking the dissenting evidence that he and only he saw (i.e., it was collected after 2001 when Clinton left office). That intelligence suggested, in fact, that the public evidence pimped by Cheney, Rice, and Powell was inaccurate and based on unreliable sources. Bush knew that at the time. But he did not tell Congress. Or the American people.

More recent revelations have made it that much more clear. Bush was briefed "on top-secret intelligence that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction." That intel never made it to the Congress, never made it outside of the US intel community. Bush knew. Tenet knew. Cheney almost certainly knew. They knew about the tubes. They knew about "Curveball." But he did not tell Congress. And he certainly wasn't going to tell France.

It is entriely possible, in the most generous interpretation of what happened, that Bush was dissuaded from believing the contrary evidence by strong forces in the White House. Perhaps it was Dick Cheney, who overruled Bush's own orders on at least one, and probably more than one, occasion in this war. (So much for Bush being "the decider.") But to suggest that Bush's picture of the intelligence was the same as everyone else's is just plain false. And I cannot believe that even Jessica McBride would continue to hold such a patently false and easily disprovable belief about the matter.

Why would we say things about "a man like General Petraeus"? It's because, for one, we knew that any written report he submitted would be written by the White House, not Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. And then after that news broke, of course, the White House elected not to issue a report at all. We also saw--watch Jon Stewart above--that despite his claims to have written his own testimony, his talking points were straight from Bush's mouth. We also knew that Petraeus's selective use of statistics (civilian deaths are up, but since they're not "sectarian," the surge is a success!) was ridiculous. The U.S. doubled troop strength in Baghdad, for example, for a minimal change in violence. That, and we know that he obfuscated in an op-ed just before the 2004 election to suggest that the Iraqi troops he was training were stepping up--troops that, three years later, haven't stepped anywhere near "up." We know that Petraeus's immediate boss called the General "an ass-kissing little chicken[something]"--and that "something" isn't "hawk."

We've watched the goalposts move so many times it's hard to see them in the distance any more:
White House press secretary Tony Snow, May 10, 2007: "Keep in mind, benchmarks ... are not new. The president talked about them in [the] State of the Union. We talked about them in Amman in November. Secretary Rice put a list of 17 together in a letter to Sen. Levin. So you do need to have metrics."

White House press secretary Tony Snow, Sept. 12, 2007: "No, benchmarks were something that Congress wanted to use as a metric. And we're going to produce a report. But the fact is that the situation is bigger and more complex, and you need to look at the whole picture."
It is simply stupid--the sign of nothing but pure unthinking vapidity--to accept anything this administration or anyone attached to it says uncritically, passively, without an adversarial mindset. There is a history with Bush, the administration, and everything they say that demands skepticism. (Just this week, the new Director of National Intelligence admitted he just made stuff up in sworn testimony to Congress.)

Last night's speech from Bush is a prime example. You can remind yourself of what the surge was supposed to do; have we made it? But perhaps most upsetting is the plan to bring troop levels in Iraq back to pre-"surge" levels by next July. Bush (and Petraeus) say that's because the surge worked. But the fact is the surge could not have lasted any longer if we'd wanted it to:
[S]enior military leaders -- including Adm. Michael Mullen, incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- have acknowledged that the "surge" effectively will end in April because there are no fresh replacements.
Reminds me of earlier this year when Bush wanted to blame his decision to extend troop deployments by three months on Democrats.

Why do we call him a liar? Because he lies. Why don't we trust Petraeus? Because he hasn't earned it. This is not complicated.

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