MoveOn’s McCarthy Moment

Duke security scholar Peter Feaver, no right wing shill, dubs yesterday’s MoveOn.org attack on General David Petraeus as “Betray Us” the movement’s “McCarthy moment.”

Precisely because it is so vicious, so public, and so deliberate, the attack on Petraeus cannot be ignored by either side in the Iraq debate. Supporters of the war are duty-bound, like Joseph Welch, to rise and ask of war opponents, “Have you left no sense of decency?” Antiwar members of Congress, like Senator McCarthy’s allies, are obliged to answer.

Let us be clear. It is legitimate to grill Petraeus on his testimony and to ask him tough questions about the strategy he has been pursuing. It is legitimate to disagree with him, or to conclude that an alternative course of action has a better chance of advancing US interests in the region. Healthy civil-military relations do not depend on accepting uncritically anything a senior military officer says. Quite the opposite, they depend on a full and frank exchange of views.

It is not legitimate, however, and it is exceedingly corrosive of healthy civil-military relations to question the general’s patriotism when his views differ from yours and are inconvenient for one’s political agenda.

Quite so. Feaver has framed my instinctual reaction to the ad in broader terms in a very clear manner.

I would add, too, that it would be helpful if partisans on both sides would stop using the military and “the troops” for political cover. The Petraeus fetishism on the Right, while less unseemly, has been quite corrosive as well and helped garner this response.

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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. Triumph says:

    I would add, too, that it would be helpful if partisans on both sides would stop using the military and “the troops” for political cover.

    Correct. There is only one person responsible for the disaster in Iraq: Bush.

  2. legion says:

    Dude. You have got to be kidding me.

    Let me explain some things to you, James.

    Outside of the blogging community, and a miniscule fraction of pundits & political wonks, nobody in the country even knows this ad exists.

    Outside of the right-wing blogging community, nobody actually cares.

    McCarthy moment?!? Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ, this isn’t even a Charlie McCarthy moment! Is MoveOn rude & disrespectul to a senior military officer? Yeah. Now tell me something new. The ad in question is nowhere in the same league of insulting and inappropriate as every single column Ann Coulter has ever written. Pat Robertson blamed 9-11 on gays and feminists, but that wasn’t a “McCarthy moment”.

    When MoveOn argues in favor of genocide, call me. When the DLC proposes that all Republicans be put into prison camps, then maybe I’ll care. When Hillary stands on the floor of the Senate and accuses all conservatives of wanting to see the US turned into a fascist dictatorship, then you might have something to post about. But this? Surely your new job hasn’t degraded your idea filters this much this fast?

  3. Tano says:

    I gotta agree with Legion here.

    If this had been a statement by a Democratic senator, with a chairmanship, and the tacit or active support of his party, then yes, it would be a McCarthy moment.

    But it was an ad by a private advocacy group. As such, I think it is better described as a “SwiftBoat” moment.

    And yes, it should be noted that the howls of outrage from the right, for whom these type of tactics are a constant and daily exercise, takes the notion of hypocrisy into a whole new universe of meaning.

  4. Bithead says:

    I wouldn’t say that, Legion. it was all over the news reports last evening. Probably will be again tonight.

    The comparison of move on to Joe McCarthy is a point I’ve made last evening, as a bounce back for an article that was originally placed on Blue Crab Boulevard

    it’s my take that the threshold has been crossed, the dam has broken, and it’s only a matter of time before the flood occurs.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Surely your new job hasn’t degraded your idea filters this much this fast?

    and

    And yes, it should be noted that the howls of outrage from the right, for whom these type of tactics are a constant and daily exercise, takes the notion of hypocrisy into a whole new universe of meaning.

    I’d note that I’ve been pretty consistent in being anti-Coulter, anti-“treason” baiting, anti-Swift Boat, and so forth regardless of whose ox is being gored. The need for civility in discourse so that we can actually have discourse has been one of my recurring themes since starting this blog, nearly five years ago now.

    Indeed, one of the things that attracted me to the Atlantic Council is that it’s a bipartisan association that has no official party line beyond a sense that we need stronger cooperation among members of the Atlantic alliance on a wide scope of issues.

  6. Bithead says:

    If this had been a statement by a Democratic senator, with a chairmanship, and the tacit or active support of his party, then yes, it would be a McCarthy moment.

    I presume you can show us where a democratic senator other than John Kerry or Joe Lieberman has complained about it? Face it; the common knowledge that MoveON is working DIRECTLY with the Democrats as usual, isn’t helping your claim any.

  7. I read somewhere today in a major media outlet that an anonymous senator did not want to be seen as attacking General Petraeus directly or calling him a liar to his face, but knew they could count on their allies to do so. Feh.

    The Petraeus fetishism on the Right, while less unseemly, has been quite corrosive as well and helped garner this response.

    Speaking only for myself, I apologize for any fetishism I may have exhibited that causes the anti-war left to act like buttholes. Because we all know we should listen to the generals, unless we shouldn’t.

  8. Triumph says:

    Of course when Petreus himself isn’t convinced that his actions in Iraq are helping to make the country safer, the MOveOn people have a good point.

  9. Tlaloc says:

    Outside of the blogging community, and a miniscule fraction of pundits & political wonks, nobody in the country even knows this ad exists.

    Yeah I have to agree. I think you (Mr. joyner I mean) hit that peculiar myopia that all us blog reading political junkies do from time to time- the mistaken assumption that news that has been cover and recovered, hashed and rehashed, screamed, whispered, debated, and eventually relegated to conventional wisdom by us ALSO managed to filter into the general public consciousness.

    It usually is not even remotely true. How many years have we all been talking about the Valerie Plame thing? Want to bet that not one american in four could give you an accurate synopsis?

    The moveon ad was tacky but effective, they turned the entire rightwing noise machine into their personal sounding board. It was not in any way, shape, or form something that will be remembered by anyone but us in three months time.

  10. Bithead says:

    Why is it that whenever the left gets caught in a situation they’d rather not be in, the almost knee-jerk response is to claim it doesn’t really matter to the voters, anyway?

  11. Boyd says:

    I’m used to the MoveOn apologists denying that their attacks mean what they clearly say. I’m also used to them claiming that no one is paying attention, or trying to minimize MoveOn’s influence on Democratic policies.

    But this latest theme of characterizing James Joyner as a raving right-wing lunatic (okay, that’s an overstatement, but you get my point) shows just how desperate you folks are getting.

  12. MarkT says:

    The opinion of those on the Right is that any advocacy group can come along and say whatever they want. Their actions then create an obligation for every house member to respond?

    Do I have that correct?

  13. anjin-san says:

    I do not approve of the “betray” language that was used, but General Petraeus has put himself in this situation by continuing to act as if he were a member of the White House political operation. The military is certainly not above criticism, they work for the taxpayers.

  14. legion says:

    Because we all know we should listen to the generals, unless we shouldn’t.

    Or unless they say things we don’t want to hear, regardless of how correct they may be. There’s long been rumblings that Adm Fallon strongly disagrees with Petreus on Iraq. And there’s rumors that a Pentagon paper with a much broader military backing, and differing opinions from Petreus, will be coming out soon. Should we listen to them? What about recently-retired EUCOM commander Gen Jones, who testified to Congress just last week that things weren’t as rosy as Petreus was saying?

    Which general should we listen to, Charles? The _one_ that agrees with what Bush wants to hear, or _all the others_ who say he’s full of crap? And how is it possible to choose one groups without calling the basic competence and/or honesty of the other into question?

    Also,

    But this latest theme of characterizing James Joyner as a raving right-wing lunatic

    Oh no – I don’t for a moment consider James in that camp. Frankly, that’s one of the reasons I frequent this place – I have a great deal of respect for him, even when I disagree. But if I think he’s losing perspective in one area or another, I won’t hesitate to say so.

  15. Which general should we listen to, Charles?

    I don’t know. Perhaps the one who says we have always been at war with Eastasia.

  16. M1EK says:

    “I’d note that I’ve been pretty consistent in being anti-Coulter,”

    The false equation of the “Coulters of the left” with the actual leadership (i.e. McCarthy) is where you went wrong – and you still didn’t address this discrepancy.

  17. Tlaloc says:

    Why is it that whenever the left gets caught in a situation they’d rather not be in, the almost knee-jerk response is to claim it doesn’t really matter to the voters, anyway?

    I don’t think anyone on the left will lose sleep if the right really wants to be the anti-MoveOn party. Really. Go for it.