Friday, August 10, 2007

Cheer louder, we might drown out the gunfire!

I was reminded this week of some wisdom offered by Bill Maher on his HBO show last year, commenting on the phenomenon of “think tank” literati continuing to offer optimistic appraisals of our disastrous war in Iraq:

“New Rule, in two parts: A) You can't call yourself a think tank if all your ideas are stupid. And B), if you're someone from one of the think tanks that dreamed up the Iraq War, and who predicted that we'd be greeted as liberators, and that we wouldn't need a lot of troops, and that Iraqi oil would pay for the war, that the WMD's would be found, that the looting wasn't problematic, and the mission was accomplished, that the insurgency was in its last throes, that things would get better after the people voted, after the government was formed, after we got Saddam, after we got his kids, after we got Zarqawi, and that the whole bloody mess wouldn't turn into a civil have to stop making predictions!”

The reason why this quote came to mind is because of the ecstatic response by conservatives this month to a New York Times article by Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack entitled, “A War We Just Might Win,” that suggests that the “Surge” in Iraq is working and the U.S. may be on its way to winning the war.

The article itself is a lot of anecdotal nonsense about how better morale and improved “focus” in American ranks has made the Surge worthwhile because it has been instrumental in helping US forces to improve the readiness of the Iraqi military. This claim by the authors is demonstrably false, as the Washington Post has just reported: the number of Iraqi units capable of operating independent of US forces has actually fallen in 2007. Meanwhile, Americans continue dying in the crossfire of a civil war in a country whose government is increasingly non-functional as it descends further into darkness. And I mean darkness literally; Baghdad’s power grid has reached the point of complete collapse.

What is significant about this article is the disingenuous way the authors pose themselves and also the way in which the piece has been received. First of all, the authors refer to themselves in the article as “analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq.” Second, the media has chosen to proceed purely on assumption that the two hold left-wing viewpoints, as they are members of the “liberal” Brookings Institution.

The conservative pundit world has responded to the article with a series of virtually identical commentaries, each one declaring smugly, “Things are great in Iraq. See, even the liberals are starting to support it! In your face, anti-war crowd!” Examples here, here and here.

In reality, the authors' backgrounds and their agenda are quite different from what they and those who are praising their work are claiming. The truth is, O’Hanlon and Pollack are flat-out lying about being critics of Bush’s conduct on the war. As author Glenn Greenwald points out:

“The Op-Ed is an exercise in rank deceit from the start. To lavish themselves with credibility -- as though they are war skeptics whom you can trust -- they identify themselves at the beginning "as two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq." In reality, they were not only among the biggest cheerleaders for the war, but repeatedly praised the Pentagon's strategy in Iraq and continuously assured Americans things were going well. They are among the primary authors and principal deceivers responsible for this disaster. Worse, they announce that "the Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility," as though they have not.”

Think Progress provides details regarding the authors’ relentless cheerleading for the war, as well as the complete lack of skepticism by the press that they might not at any time have been the critics of the endeavor that they claim to have been.

Right-wing “scholars” like O’Hanlon and Pollack and the commentators who support them continue to be treated by the media as if they have some sort of credibility. They don’t. Unfortunately, what they do have is a marketable product in the form of the lies and nonsense they produce, and that product has been the basis for the greatest foreign policy mistake in this country’s history.