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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Andy says:

    they also respect and trust the officer corps and Petraeus in particular. As well they should.

    Absolutely not. There should be no such blind trust of the military. Respect, yes, but not unquestioning faith.

  2. Matthew J. Stinson says:

    Awesome. Political disagreement = betrayal. When does MoveOn start the countdown clock to Year Zero?

  3. whippoorwill says:

    MoveOn.org isn’t known for for it’s nuanced treatment of issues, to be sure, but this is just plain boneheaded.

    Agreed, however, General Petraeus has been willing, more so than his predecessors, to be used by the White House in their political operation to sell the surge. This compromises, or appears to, the notion of an independent military assessment of the situation and recent polls bear this out. I think the public is well beyond traded insults from both sides on the issue of Iraq. The ONLY thing that matters is what’s happening on the ground.

  4. spencer says:

    Can you show me the example of someone questioning his patriotism and loyalty? You seem to be putting words in peoples mouth.

  5. Andy says:

    This compromises, or appears to, the notion of an independent military assessment of the situation and recent polls bear this out.

    More the point, the Bush Administration is pushing Petraeus’ view as if it is the only one that counts, when in fact the admiral in charge of centcom has a drastically different view. There are many opinions in the military, even at the top levels, but we only hear about Petraeus, Petraeus, Petraeus, because the media is lazy and the Whitehouse is pushing their agenda.

  6. Kathy says:

    The wording MoveOn chose to use for the banner headline is stupid, but Gen. Petraeus is not beyond criticism. Petraeus may sincerely believe he’s doing the right thing, but he has still shown himself to be a political hack. My bottom-line belief is that, in a democracy, it is a very serious mistake to give any official, elected or unelected, blind trust based solely on his job title. Trust has to be earned, and the fact is that Petraeus has achieved nothing in Iraq that should make us trust him.

  7. Mithras says:

    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.

    Jawohl!

  8. Triumph says:

    James Joyner:

    The lack of strong, non-Baathist Iraqi political institutions that cuts across sectarian lines is indeed the reason it’s taking so long. Then again, that fact predated our invasion. So, while there are undoubtedly many wars and subwars within the larger War, the most controversial and unwinnable may be the only one that really matters.

    Moveon Ad:

    Most importantly, General Petraeus will not admit what everyone knows: Iraq is mired in an unwinnable religious civil war.

    Joyner:

    One thing that almost everyone agrees is that things aren’t going to be noticeably better, especially on the all-important political front, next month.

    MOveon Ad:

    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 have achieved progress.

    Joyner + Moveon= Treason

  9. Barry says:

    “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.”

    Wrong. Petraeus has already demonstrated his partisanship, with his Sep 04 crock of purest processed bull food. He’s demonstrating now, through massive spin, carefully groomed statistics and repeated appearances on right-wing outlets that he is, indeed, nothing more than Bush’s boy.

    If he works for Bush, we don’t *owe* him respect.

  10. Tlaloc says:

    Has anyone seen the actual ad, cause the “numerous published sources” I saw were the Weekly Standard, CNS, and Politico. Of those three only one isn’t toilet paper.

  11. Tlaloc says:

    they also respect and trust the officer corps and Petraeus in particular. As well they should.

    Petraeus has broken that trust. he did so when he crowed about what an awesome job he’d done training the Iraqi security forces and then later we found out he’d actually f^cked it all up and the security forces are one of our main problems in Iraq. He also did it when he put his name on a very good counterinsurgency manual and then ignored what it said when he was put in charge of a counterinsurgency.

    He seems like a bright guy, but he also has shown himself to be rather political more than practical. That deserves no respect.

  12. Triumph says:

    Tloc-

    I have seen the actual ad in the Times.

    There is nothing incendiary about it. The quotes above–which are similar to James’ critique–are from the ad.

    One thing to point out is that Ed Gillepsie–the former RNC Chair who has taken over many of Karl Rove’s political duties–has set up a political operation which involves Patreus’ people in the DoD to “sell” the war.

    The Washington Post reports:

    Another new arrival in the West Wing set up a rapid-response PR unit hard-wired into Petraeus’s shop. Ed Gillespie, the new presidential counselor, organized daily conference calls at 7:45 a.m. and again late in the afternoon between the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the U.S. Embassy and military in Baghdad to map out ways of selling the surge.

    From the start of the Bush plan, the White House communications office had been blitzing an e-mail list of as many as 5,000 journalists, lawmakers, lobbyists, conservative bloggers, military groups and others with talking points or rebuttals of criticism.

    It would not be surprising if James’ post was prompted by some sort of White House e-mail blitz, since he is commenting without actually having read the ad.

    But, lets give James a break, given the fact that this is first day at a new job.

  13. Michael says:

    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.

    Oh, it is now? Thank goodness, I’m sure Kerry and Murtha will both be relieved to know that their patriotism and loyalty will no longer be questioned by those who oppose their views on Iraq.

    Of course, this will all probably change back again when the next retired General comes out against the war.

  14. James Joyner says:

    Oh, it is now? Thank goodness, I’m sure Kerry and Murtha will both be relieved to know that their patriotism and loyalty will no longer be questioned by those who oppose their views on Iraq.

    Of course, this will all probably change back again when the next retired General comes out against the war.

    If you look through my archives, I think you’ll find that I’ve defended Kerry, Murtha, and the retired generals on much the same grounds. One can disagree with people without questioning their honor.

  15. Triumph says:

    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.

    James, the main problem–and the reason Patreaus is being criticized–is his close partnership with the WHite House spin machine.

    If he were really the objective bureaucrat that Bush likes to make him out to be, why would he work so closely with Gillespie? It is doubtful that anyone will ask him this question on the Fox news exclusive interview he granted for immediately after his testimony.

  16. Tlaloc says:

    Tloc-

    I have seen the actual ad in the Times.

    And I see Mr. joyner now has a link to the ad directly from MoveOn. Thank you! I don;t approve of the title, but I’m not willing to take the Weekly Standard’s say so on what the title is or how the article reads.

  17. James Joyner says:

    I’m not willing to take the Weekly Standard’s say so on what the title is or how the article reads.

    Even this morning I’d seen dozens of mainstream stories referencing the title. The first link above was to GoogleNews. I only linked TWS because it was the driver of the story onto Memeorandum.

    James, the main problem–and the reason Patreaus is being criticized–is his close partnership with the WHite House spin machine.

    If he were really the objective bureaucrat that Bush likes to make him out to be, why would he work so closely with Gillespie?

    There’s no taking the politics out of generalship. Wars are, after all, a tool of politics. That’s especially true given a sensitive mission like Iraq, where multiple cultural sensibilities have to be acknowledged and finessed.

  18. Mithras says:

    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.

    It’s his role to honestly (!) say whether a particular mission can or cannot be achieved with the resources provided. Petraeus has failed to do that. Not treason, but worse: a mistake. A general is a not a cheerleader for whatever harebrained assignment the civilian leadership can think up. That’s what it means to be a professional – you have to be bigger than any assignment. Yes, it is Congress’s job to decide when to stop a war – nice of Joyner to finally state that – so can we please stop talking about this non-report report as if it settles the question? Particularly when it comes from a thoroughly tendentious source.

  19. Barry says:

    “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.”

    If it’s Congress’ role to make the call to withdraw, but the military is lying at the orders of the President, then Congress doesn’t have the information needed to correctly make that call. Neither do we.

    BTW, you also seem to be forgetting that Bush lied and spun like h*ll to get that bipartisan authorization, and frankly used the war as a partisan tool. This isn’t a statesman honestly trying to figure out the best interest of his beloved country, it’s a rather evil man dishonestly using war to promote his political power, after a grotesque failure gave him power and popularity which he didn’t deserve.

    Also, it’s not Petraeus’ assigned mission; that’s for the schmucks under him. He didn’t get this position, and the extra rank, without volunteering for it, and knowingly accepting what Bush wanted of him.

  20. Barry says:

    James: “If you look through my archives, I think you’ll find that I’ve defended Kerry, Murtha, and the retired generals on much the same grounds. One can disagree with people without questioning their honor.”

    There’s a big difference – Petraeus is using his power, command authority and access to information here. Murtha and Kerry couldn’t order people to lie, spin, corrupt statistics or to classify/declassify materials. Murtha and Kerry couldn’t punish people who dissented.

    Petraeus can, and does. He should be held accountable for what he does.

  21. Michael says:

    There have been major signs of political progress: constitutions written, elections held, agreements reached, and so forth.

    While those may be signs that accompany political progress, they are not progress in and of themselves. Indeed, in Iraq, we are seeing that the “signs” of progress aren’t necessarily accompanied by actual progress. You can turn corners all day and night, and still stay on the same block as you started on.

    If you look through my archives, I think you’ll find that I’ve defended Kerry, Murtha, and the retired generals on much the same grounds. One can disagree with people without questioning their honor.

    You may have, but a very large number of people who are outraged that Petraeus’s intentions are being questioned are the very same that were questioning the patriotism and loyalty of people like Murtha, Kerry and Clark.

  22. Tlaloc says:

    Even this morning I’d seen dozens of mainstream stories referencing the title. The first link above was to GoogleNews. I only linked TWS because it was the driver of the story onto Memeorandum.

    I went to the google news link and the three articles it had listed then were weekly standard, CNS, and Politico. Hence my initial comment in the thread.

    It’s a moot point now as we have good solid sourcing (straight from MoveOn in this case, and again thank you for linking directly to the issue). In other words at first the story sounded like it could be fake to me becasue of the sourcing, now it’s well established. Issue resolved!

  23. spencer says:

    You have now read the ad, so I’m waiting for you to point out anything in it that was incorrect.

    Move On did not call him a traitor or disloyal.

    You were the one that made that statement.

    So that does mean when you read the ad you could not help but come to the conclusion that he is a disloyal traitor?

  24. James Joyner says:

    Move On did not call him a traitor or disloyal.

    Of course they did. That’s what “Betray us” means.

  25. Triumph says:

    Of course they did. That’s what “Betray us” means.

    Come on James–first of all according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “betray” means “to lead astray or into error.” Given the fact that the ad says nothing about treason or disloyalty, I am not sure how you can even make that jump in perception.

    Secondly, the use of the phrase is clearly done for its homonymic qualities.

    Had Tommy Franks still been in charge in Iraq, the headline would have been: “Tommy, please be Frank.”

    Heaven knows what they would have done with General Schwartzkoff.

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    I shall be using this post about the NY Times ad and the Vets for Freedom response to it for this open trackback, because I believe very strongly that all of us must do all we can to help defend our men and women who are out there risking it all so t…..

  27. Boyd says:

    …according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “betray” means “to lead astray or into error.”

    Well, yes, but that’s ignoring another common definition of the term: “to deliver to an enemy by treachery.” In fact, in a military context, betrayal is arguably more often an act of treason.

    But I’m sure all those eminently reasonable folks over at MoveOn.org were merely saying, “you’ve led us into error, General Betray Us!”

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  32. Bithead says:

    James, the main problem–and the reason Patreaus is being criticized–is his close partnership with the WHite House spin machine.

    Oh, puuuullleeeeese….

    What you’re telling us, is that the General s that so bereft of honor is Petreus, that he’s sending men to fight a battle he knows is lost. And why? To curry favor with a lame duck administration with approval numbers in the 30’s?

    Sorry, but I don’t buy it. One does not get to his position of importance by being that blind to the political conditions surrounding them. That he is quite so tone deaf , simply does not ring true.

    The Weekly standard put it well:

    MoveOn.org has helped frame the core choice: Whom do we trust to run this war—MoveOn.org and its allies in Congress, or Gen. David Petraeus and his colleagues?

    About that, The polling suggests that by a wide margin, the American people trust the Military on the matter, more than Congress. THey trust he Military more than they do the WH, as well, but given the Bush himself has been saying since we went into Iraq that he’s going by what his generals are telling him…. as he should. They’re the experts in the matter.

    All this bottom lines here:
    The far left has expanded an awful lot of time energy and money … 12 million, by some reports, in an effort to gain say the generals. I’d say offhand, the attempt has failed.

  33. Bithead says:

    Move On did not call him a traitor or disloyal.

    Laughable.

    What is it you think “betrayal” is, anyway?

  34. 123beta says:

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    On this anniversary of that awful day, I still remember Mr. Christopher Colastani. And I always will. Forever….

  35. Michael says:

    Of course they did. That’s what “Betray us” means.

    That was really more of a rhetorical question than an accusation. Obviously they just wanted to make sure the headline made headlines, the article itself never suggested he was a traitor.

  36. Rosemary says:

    Again, I have posted your backtrack on my site, but you do not do the same courtesy for me. Could it be something to do with the computer, or should I stop supporting you? I do not wish to stop supporting you, but this is supposed to be a two-way street. Let me know what to do at rawsense2004 AT yahoo DOT com. Thank you.

  37. Rosemary says:

    I just read your message to trackbackers. Um…nevermind. My fault. *blush*

    Great article!

  38. Bithead says:

    That was really more of a rhetorical question than an accusation.

    (Sigh)
    Reverse the roles. Say those are Republicans taking out that ad. Would YOU given believe the line you’ve just given us?

  39. […] to Outside the Beltway, Perri Nelson’s Website, Blog @ MoreWhat.com, Rosemary’s Thoughts, DeMediacratic […]

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  43. Michael says:

    Reverse the roles. Say those are Republicans taking out that ad. Would YOU given believe the line you’ve just given us?

    Hell no. See, honesty and partisanship can co-exist. That headline should have never been written.

    But then again, the line Democrats usually see are indeed accusations, and not just rhetorical questions, so you’ll excuse us if we don’t feel too much sympathy towards the poor General.

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  49. Grewgills says:

    (Sigh)
    Reverse the roles. Say those are Republicans taking out that ad. Would YOU given believe the line you’ve just given us?

    Maybe he would not, but you certainly would.

    All this bottom lines here:
    The far left has expanded an awful lot of time energy and money … 12 million, by some reports, in an effort to gain say the generals. I’d say offhand, the attempt has failed.

    I would say the bottom line is what information the American people walk away believing. At this point it is not the line Petraeus has been giving and I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to change.

  50. Bithead says:

    (Sigh)
    Reverse the roles. Say those are Republicans taking out that ad. Would YOU given believe the line you’ve just given us?

    Maybe he would not, but you certainly would.

    And on what basis, pray, tel, do you make this statement? Be sure to use specifics.

    I would say the bottom line is what information the American people walk away believing. At this point it is not the line Petraeus has been giving and I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that to change.

    Perhaps you didn’t notice the report on polling data I referred to?

  51. Grewgills says:

    Perhaps you didn’t notice the report on polling data I referred to?

    The polling data (no links) you referred was I assume question 66 of the recent NYT/CBS Poll.

    66. If you had to choose, who would you say you trust the most with successfully resolving the war in Iraq — the Bush Administration, Congress, or U.S. military commanders in Iraq?

    Bush Admin……………….5
    Congress………………..21
    Military commanders…..68
    None(vol.)……………….3
    Other…………………….-
    DK/NA…………………….3

    Correct me if I am wrong in this assumption.

    Perhaps you should read the rest of the results of that poll.

    4. Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling foreign policy?

    Approve 26 Disapprove 67 No Opinion/Answer 7

    6. Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the situation with Iraq?

    Approve 26 Disapprove 71 No Opinion/Answer 3

    7. Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the campaign against terrorism?

    Approve 40 Disapprove 52 No Opinion/Answer 8

    11. Do you think removing Saddam Hussein from power is worth the potential loss of American life and the other costs of attacking Iraq, or not?

    Approve 35 Disapprove 59 No Opinion/Answer 6

    20. Do you think the United States made a mistake getting involved in the current war against Iraq, or not?

    Yes 62 No 34 No Opinion/Answer 3

    52. How would you say things are going for the U.S. in its efforts to bring stability and order to Iraq? Would you say things are going very well, somewhat well, somewhat badly, or very badly?

    Very well 4 Somewhat well 29 Somewhat badly 32 Very Badly 32 DK/NA 2

    53. From what you know about the U.S. involvement in Iraq, how much longer would you be willing to have large numbers of U.S. troops remain in Iraq — less than a year, one to two years, two to five years or longer than five years?

    Less than one year……….54
    1-2 years…………………..22
    2-5 years……………………8
    Longer than five years…….7
    As long as it takes(vol.)…..5
    Should leave now(vol.)……1
    DK/NA 3

    55. Regardless of how you usually vote, do you think the Republican party or the Democratic party is more likely to make the right decisions about the war in Iraq?

    Republican……..32
    Democratic…….42
    Both(vol.)……….1
    Neither(vol.)……9
    DK/NA………….16

    And it goes on and on.
    Again the bottom line is what the American public walks away believing about what America should be doing in Iraq. Nothing much new is being said at the hearings thus far so I would be surprised to see the public’s opinions change much because of the testimony of Petraeus and Crocker. Feel free to differ, but be prepared for disappointment.

    And on what basis, pray, tel, do you make this statement? Be sure to use specifics.

    It is merely my opinion based on my recollections of your previous comments. I am not invested enough in that comment to search through the archives for proof. I will keep my eyes open for my current opinion to be proven false.

  52. Bithead says:

    Now, why would it surprise you to learn that the American people trust the military in the matter more than the White House, given that the White House themselves, since the beginning of this thing has been loudly deferring to the military’s wisdom?

    The fact is the American people are trusting of the military and the democrats have overplayed their hand.

  53. Michael says:

    The fact is the American people are trusting of the military and the democrats have overplayed their hand.

    Um, that would only be the case if the American people also believed that the Commander in Chief was listening to the military for his Iraq plans, which I don’t believe they do. So it is entirely possible for the American people to trust the military, and the democrats, and be against the war and the White House.

  54. Grewgills says:

    Now, why would it surprise you to learn that the American people trust the military in the matter more than the White House, given that the White House themselves, since the beginning of this thing has been loudly deferring to the military’s wisdom?

    The WH credibility problem has little to do with claiming deference to the military.

    The fact is the American people are trusting of the military and the democrats have overplayed their hand.

    Yet the American people actually believe what the Democrats and a growing contingent of ex-military are saying rather than what Petraeus is and has been saying. You name the stakes (I suggest one month of no blog commentary excepting your own blog) and I will bet you that in one week or one month public opinion on the war will more closely align with Democrats’ assessment than with Petraeus’. I await your response or counter offer.

  55. Michael says:

    The fact is the American people are trusting of the military and the democrats have overplayed their hand.

    There exists a large portion of the military besides Petreaus, and many of them disagree (publicly) with his finding and suggestions, perhaps it’s those members of the military that the American people say they trust.

  56. Bithead says:

    You keep wishing… and hoping, for our defeat.
    Meantime, we’ll deal with the reality.

  57. Michael says:

    You keep wishing… and hoping, for our defeat.

    Come on Bithead, you’re smarter than that. I rarely ever agree with you, but I at least know you’re smarter than that.

    Surely there is some reason with more substance that keeps you supporting the current war plan. If you have to fall back to that tired old straw man, perhaps it’s time to concede the argument.

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  59. Grewgills says:

    Bit,
    Do you not believe in your prediction enough to take me up on my challenge?

  60. Parris Boyd says:

    The military has it coming. First it was Jason Tharp wanting out of the Marines, then drowning during “training.” Forced to tread water, Jason was surrounded by Marine swim instruators as he went under possibly six times, screamed repeatedly to be let out of the pool, finally succumbed to exhaustion and coughed, gagged, or vomitted before bobbing to the surface unresponsive. These facts came to light only because WIS-TV happaned to catch a Marine instructor assaulting Jason 24 hours before the drowning occured Now its Pat Tillman expressing anti-war sentiments, then getting killed by “friendly fire” and investigators saying their findings that Tillman was shot at close range were ignored. Of course, Tillman’s family has long maintained that he was murdered by fellow Army rangers because of his political views.

    An ad encoraging DIStrust of the military is long overdue. Hooray for MoveOn.org