General Betray Us?
According to numerous published sources, the liberal activist group MoveOn.org is running a full page ad in today’s New York Times under the banner, “General Petraeus or General Betray us? Cooking the books for the White House.” (I haven’t seen the ad, which isn’t yet up at the NYT, MoveOn, or various sites commenting on it.)
MoveOn.org isn’t known for its nuanced treatment of issues, to be sure, but this is just plain boneheaded. The public already overwhelmingly supports the group’s view that the war is lost. They already think that the Petraeus report will serve up the administration’s pre-existing viewpoint, oversell the Surge’s successes and undersell the difficulty of winning. So why on earth would they hand the other side such a major P.R. victory?
And make no mistake about it: That’s what this is. Questioning the patriotism and loyalty of a man who has spent thirty-seven years in his country’s uniform, many of those in combat zones is simply beyond the pale. While the public intuitively understands that senior generals take their orders from the president, they also respect and trust the officer corps and Petraeus in particular. As well they should.
UPDATE: As several commenters have pointed out, the full text of the ad is now available online. MoveOn now has it at their site, in both HTML and a PDF version.
While the substance of the ad is less inflammatory than MoveOn’s self-chosen headline, it’s still insulting and personal rather than simply argumentative.
General Petraeus is a military man constantly at war with the facts. In 2004, just before the election, he said there was “tangible progress” in Iraq and that “Iraqi leaders are stepping forward.”
And last week Petraeus, the architect of the escalation of troops in Iraq , said “We say we have achieved progress, and we are obviously going to do everything we can to build on that progress.” Every independent report on the ground situation in Iraq shows that the surge strategy has failed. Yet the General claims a reduction in violence. That’s because, according to the New York Times, the Pentagon has adopted a bizarre formula for keeping tabs on violence. For example, deaths by car bombs don’t count. The Washington Post reported that assassinations only count if you’re shot in the back of the head — not the front. According to news reports, there have been more civilian deaths and more American soldier deaths in the past three months than in any other summer we’ve been there. We’ll hear of neighborhoods where violence has decreased. But we won’t hear that those neighborhoods have been ethnically cleansed.
Most importantly, General Petraeus will not admit what everyone knows; Iraq is mired in an unwinnable religious civil war. We may hear of a plan to withdraw a few thousand American troops. But we won’t hear what Americans are desperate to hear: a timetable for withdrawing all our troops. General Petraeus has actually said American troops will need to stay in Iraq for as long as ten years.
Today before Congress and before the American people, General Petraeus is likely to become General Betray Us.
None of what Petraeus has said is factually wrong or even misleading. There have been major signs of political progress: constitutions written, elections held, agreements reached, and so forth. Unfortunately, they’ve tended to be followed by catastrophic failures. Goodness knows, the facts about casualties and the arguments for withdrawal have seen the light of day. Indeed, most of the polling shows that it has penetrated the American public consciousness quite well.
Calling a general’s fighting for the success of his assigned mission a “betrayal” is simply outrageous. It is, after all, the job he’s been given. The war was launched by a duly elected president with the backing of an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress. It’s their role, not his, to make the call to withdraw.