POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY - Anti-war tactics and truth-telling untruths
By Alan Nathan
Published August 31, 2007
If we don't wave the white flag fast enough in Iraq, we'll get stuck with a victory and nothing could set a worse precedent — at least for those like House Majority Whip James Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat.
Seemingly preferring an electoral success over an international triumph, the otherwise savvy congressman told Washington Post reporter Dan Balz that if Gen. David Petraeus reports in September that the troop surge is working well, "That would be a real big problem for us, no question about that — simply because of those 47 Blue Dogs [centrist Democrats]." He argued that their numbers would be enough to continue congressional support for the surge should the Republicans remain as united as they've been.
Perhaps sensing that he might look as if he were putting his party's team before the home team, Mr. Clyburn reversed his rhetoric and stressed the need to wait until the general's update is actually given because, "None of us want to see a bad result in Iraq." He closed on the issue by acknowledging that we "get good intelligence from those people like General Petraeus who can be trusted to give us good information." But political opportunism isn't the only culprit requiring mollification since ideology has enjoyed increased latitude in the news-reporting industry. This proved in ample supply a few weeks ago on MSNBC's "Hardball" with Chris Matthews. As a media veteran, I found it embarrassing to witness the host fictionally portray President Bush's compliance with the law as tantamount to reneging on his promise to have Gen. Petraeus give the report.
Mr. Matthews asserted, "I was taken aback to learn that we're not going to get a sharp report from the general — not in his own words. We're going to get it written by political people around the president" (Hardball, MSNBC, 08-16-07).
The most unpolished debate maneuver in the amphitheater of political discourse is the renaming of a thing as being other than what it is simply to gain the ground your arguments otherwise could not.
Conservatives practiced this when defending former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's maladroit war prosecution in Iraq, and now liberals like Mr. Matthews are reciprocating in kind as they anticipate how best to counter what many see as a given — affirmation of our troop's successful surge.
While Mr. Matthews may have been "taken aback" to learn that the president will submit the report to Congress along with Gen. Petraeus' testimony, the Democrat-led Congress was not — although the confusion serves them well.
Relevant to both the July 15 and Sept. 15 updates to the U.S. legislature, our representatives and senators wrote into law that, "The President, having consulted with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Commander, Multi-National Forces-Iraq, the United States Ambassador to Iraq, and the Commander of U.S. Central Command, will prepare the report and submit the report to Congress" (Public Law 110-28, May 25, 2007). Perhaps most troubling to antiwar advocates is that their camp's population comprises not only those who are genetically against all wars, but also those who judge such things on a results-driven basis. These performance-oriented citizens are the reason we saw polls of support for the Iraq war drop from a ratio of 70-30 in 2003 to that of 30-70 in 2006.
Opponents belonging to that efficacy-minded category are the ones who can just as easily switch back to cheering as they had to jeering, and the genetic war protesters know it. For those orthodoxy-based absolutists eager for troop withdrawal, few developments could prove more unsavory than a positive update from Iraq. One need only look at the more virulent authoritarian-left blogs to understand this.
On Aug. 27, Huffingtonpost.com founder Arianna Huffington had a column "War Deadenders Take Hope: The Surge May Not be Working, But a US-Allawi Coup May Be On Its Way." The unimpressive former Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi aside, Ms. Huffington epitomized the bad-faith debater by characterizing success as failure when referencing our troops' progress.
Rhetorical fencing over the likely ramifications of a fact is always legitimate. Laughingly contemptuous, however, is the person who falsely represents a fact so as to create makeshift foundations for a thesis that would otherwise have none.
The August National Intelligence Estimate reported, "We assess, to the extent that Coalition forces continue to conduct robust counterinsurgency operations and mentor and support the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), that Iraq's security will continue to improve modestly during the next six to 12 months but that levels of insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high and the Iraqi Government will continue to struggle to achieve national-level political reconciliation and improved governance." Arguing that Iraq's political inertia has marginalized the gains of our troop surge is a defensible position — but the act of denying those verifiable gains is not. It's the behavior one might expect from a different crowd — perhaps those still looking forward to a prom.