'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Liberal Hawks Strike Back 

I don't know if other people have been following this but last week Brookings' Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack had a NYT op-ed, "A War We Just Might Win", about how great the surge is going. After a stage-managed field trip O'Hanlon and Pollack returned to report that, yes, if you talk to the people in Iraq that the military introduces you to, they will indeed paint a positive picture of the occupation.

Given that the piece is mostly a summary of what O'Hanlon and Pollack were told by various official sources, the extent to which we should view the piece as valuable is entirely a function of its authors' credibility, and as numerous liberal blogs have pointed out, on this issue, they have none. Despite repeatedly being characterized as war critics in the media, both O'Hanlon and Pollack have been boosters of the war since 2002 -- both were in fact proponents of the surge. Greenwald does a good job of documenting this aspect of the story.

As an aside -- which I'm bringing up just because no one else is mentioning it and it's funny -- it is amusing to see the big liberal bloggers ripping into claims of O'Hanlon and Pollack's credibility due to their imaginary status as war critics. It was, after all, liberal bloggers like Josh Marshall, Matthew Yglesias, and Kevin Drum -- all three of whom were pro-invasion in late 2002 and early 2003 -- who were perhaps the most influential promoters of Kenneth Pollack's The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq in the first place. We see Greg Sargent, for example, posting a long examination of O'Hanlon and Pollack statements supporting the war on Josh Marshall's TPMCafe that for some reason doesn't cite Josh Marshall's "The Reluctant Hawk", a glowing review of Pollack's magnum opus from 2002. The spin that Yglesias, Sargent, et. al. are debunking is that we should listen to O'Hanlon and Pollack because they are praising the surge reluctantly, but it was the liberal bloggers themselves who gave at least Pollack this phony "I can't believe I'm saying this" credibility.

Since "A War We Just Might Win" is a transcription of what Pentagon talking heads would like printed in the New York Times, it offers a sneak preview of what is going to be in Petraeus's much anticipated September report on the progress of the surge. Here is the key passage:

In war, sometimes it’s important to pick the right adversary, and in Iraq we seem to have done so. A major factor in the sudden change in American fortunes has been the outpouring of popular animus against Al Qaeda and other Salafist groups [ ... ] Today the Sunni sheiks there are close to crippling Al Qaeda and its Salafist allies.

This is what Petraeus is going to say in September: the surge is working because we have Sunni sheiks on our side in a fight against al-Qaeda. This new line explains to a great degree the change in White House rhetoric that I commented on two months ago such that according to Bush speeches everyone the US battles in Iraq is now al-Qeada.

The story makes more sense when we are clear on who we are talking about when we talk about "Sunni sheiks". To quote veteran Australian war correspondent Michael Ware, the term "Sunni sheiks" is "a euphemism for the Sunni insurgency". When we remove the rosy spin from the new narrative what we are discussing is the US cutting a deal with Sunni insurgents at the expense of the Shiite government. In other words what Petraeus is going to do in September is confirm Seymour Hersh's piece "The Redirection" from earlier this year.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?