Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

The So-Called War Critics

September 15, 2007 is the deadline for the George W. Bush administration to submit a report to Congress defending its Iraq "surge...

Print Friendly

September 15, 2007 is the deadline for the George W. Bush administration to submit a report to Congress defending its Iraq "surge strategy," an escalation of more than 30,000 U.S. troops designed to increase security in the war-torn nation.

Amid the gruesome attacks that continue to plague Iraqis—the casualty toll of last week’s bombing in a poor rural area near the Syrian border has soared to more than 500, making it the bloodiest coordinated attack since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003—and the crumbling political alliances and Sunni defections within Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s floundering government, the White House is hoping to bookend the latest chapter in the Iraq War debacle with some good news.

As usual, the Bush administration has been getting by with a little help—perhaps unwittingly—from its friends in the U.S. mainstream media.

The most recent "information surge" to pulsate through U.S. broadcast news outlets originated from the pens of Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, two self-described critics of the administration’s "miserable handling of Iraq," who, in a July 30 New York Times op-ed entitled "A War We Just Might Win," wrote that the U.S. forces "are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms."

O’Hanlon and Pollack, who are both fellows at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, a Washington-based think tank, were careful not to acknowledge the possibility of "victory in Iraq"—an oft-used phrase that, along with "stay the course," has been recently omitted from President Bush’s rhetoric. But they wrote that they were heartened by the morale of U.S. troops, surprised at the gains made by the "surge," and confident in its potential to produce a "sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with."

"There is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008," they concluded. In doing so, O’Hanlon and Pollack jump-started an information surge that would end up providing political cover for the administration’s war policy.

Mainstream media news outlets—perhaps more out of complacence than collusion—jumped on the bandwagon, reporting that two longtime critics of the Iraq War were conceding military progress, while ignoring the fact that both O’Hanlon and Pollack had initially been very vocal supporters of the war effort.

During a July 30 interview on CNN Newsroom, anchor Heidi Collins painted Pollack as an opponent of the war who, based on his eight-day visit to Iraq, had ostensibly changed his mind and was becoming more supportive. "You are a self-proclaimed critic of the way the Bush administration has handled this war, you wrote a book about the situation in Iraq, you shared your thoughts all over TV and in some newspapers, but yet it seems like the tune is changing a bit," she said.

Collins failed to mention the content of Pollack’s 2002 book, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, whose title speaks for itself, or that he heavily promoted the invasion of Iraq on Oprah Winfrey’s show in 2002.

O’Hanlon and Pollack were similarly introduced over the next few days in interviews on major U.S. news channels. As noted by Media Matters, a media monitoring organization based in Washington, on the July 30 edition of the CBS Evening News, national security correspondent David Martin incorrectly described O’Hanlon as "a critic" of the Iraq War "who used to think the surge was too little too late, [but] now believes it should be continued."

"In fact," Media Matters wrote, "while O’Hanlon has been critical of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq War, he supported the invasion and argued in a January 2007 column that President Bush’s troop increase was ‘the right thing to try.’"

One day after the O’Hanlon-Pollack op-ed was published, Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live and extolled O’Hanlon and Pollack’s views, and attempted to add more credibility to the administration policy when he quipped that the op-ed had appeared in the New York Times, "not exactly a friendly publication."

"They have both been strong critics of the war, both worked in the prior administration; but now saying that they think there’s a possibility, indeed, that we could be successful," Cheney told King.

Curiously, in 2002, the Bush administration fed false intelligence to the New York Times about nuclear weapons in Iraq, and Cheney quoted the story in an interview on Tim Russert’s Meet the Press, part of a similar strategy to place the burden of proof on a news source, not the administration.

Yet for all the complacence exhibited by CNN, FOX, CBS, and other news outlets, the contradictions associated with O’Hanlon and Pollack’s analysis were not lost on media watchdogs.

"For sheer deceit and propaganda, it is difficult to remember something quite this audacious and transparently false," wrote Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com. "Witnessing these two war lovers—supporters of the invasion, advocates of the surge, comrades of Fred Kagan—mindlessly depicted all day yesterday by media mouthpieces as the opposite of what they are was really quite startling."

Kagan, one of the architects of the surge strategy, accompanied neoconservative polemicist Bill Kristol on his own tour of Iraq, which resulted in a laudatory evaluation of recent U.S. military efforts.

In an interview with Greenwald, O’Hanlon acknowledged that he was not exactly the Bush administration critic he was described as in numerous broadcast news interviews.

"That I’m being held up as a ‘critic of the war,’ for example by Vice President Cheney, it’s certainly fair to ask if that is a proper characterization of me. And in fact I would not even use that characterization of myself," O’Hanlon told Greenwald. "As you rightly reported, I was not a critic of this war. In the final analysis, I was a supporter."

Perhaps the most stinging rebuke of O’Hanlon and Pollack’s tacit promotion of the surge strategy came in another New York Times op-ed published on August 19. In "The War as We Saw It," seven noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division at the tail-end of a 15-month deployment to Iraq wrote that "the claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework."

Without explicitly referring to the O’Hanlon and Pollack’s op-ed, the seven authors echoed its language and challenged some of its claims.

"We are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political, and social unrest we see today," they wrote.

Yet the U.S. mainstream media did not give it the same attention, even though it was, in many ways, a direct response to O’Hanlon and Pollack’s assertions. In an August 21 analysis piece published by the Associated Press, reporter Charles Babington wrote that Democrats were "wearily anticipating" the upcoming mid-September report, "realizing that opponents will use any upbeat assessment to portray them as defeatists just as glimmers of hope appear."

Those glimmers of hope have been provided by O’Hanlon and Pollack, but the words of the seven U.S. servicemen appear to have gone under the radar. They were nowhere to be found in Babington’s report.

Khody Akhavi is a contributor to the Inter Press Service.

 

Citations

Khody Akhavi, "The So-Called War Critics," Right Web Analysis (Somerville, MA: International Relations Center, August 28, 2007).

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

The Foreign Policy Initiative, founded in 2009 by a host of neoconservative figures, was a leading advocate for a militaristic and Israel-centric U.S. foreign policies.


Billionaire investor Paul Singer is the founder and CEO of the Elliott Management Corporation and an important funder of neoconservative causes.


Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is known for his hawkish views on foreign policy and close ties to prominent neoconservatives.


Ron Dermer is the Israeli ambassador to the United States and a close confidante of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


Blackwater Worldwide founder Erik Prince is notorious for his efforts to expand the use of private military contractors in conflict zones.


U.S. Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis is a retired U.S Marine Corps general and combat veteran who served as commander of U.S. Central Command during 2010-2013 before being removed by the Obama administration reportedly because of differences over Iran policy.


Mark Dubowitz, an oft-quoted Iran hawk, is the executive director of the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly

The time has come for a new set of partnerships to be contemplated between the United States and Middle East states – including Iran – and between regimes and their peoples, based on a bold and inclusive social contract.


Print Friendly

Erik Prince is back. He’s not only pitching colonial capitalism in DC. He’s huckstering ex-SF-led armies of sepoys to wrest Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya and perhaps, if he is ever able to influence likeminded hawks in the Trump administration, even Iran back from the infidels.


Print Friendly

Encouraged by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement late last month that Washington favors “peaceful” regime change in Iran, neoconservatives appear to be trying to influence the internal debate by arguing that this is Trump’s opportunity to be Ronald Reagan.


Print Friendly

When asked about “confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing in world affairs,” 22 percent of those surveyed as part of a recent Pew Research Center global poll expressed confidence in Donald Trump and 74 percent expressed no confidence.


Print Friendly

A much-awaited new State Department volume covering the period 1951 to 1954 does not reveal much new about the actual overthrow of Mohammad Mossadeq but it does provide a vast amount of information on US involvement in Iran.


Print Friendly

As debate continues around the Trump administration’s arms sales and defense spending, am new book suggests several ways to improve security and reduce corruption, for instance by increasing transparency on defense strategies, including “how expenditures on systems and programs align with the threats to national security.”


Print Friendly

Lobelog We walked in a single file. Not because it was tactically sound. It wasn’t — at least according to standard infantry doctrine. Patrolling southern Afghanistan in column formation limited maneuverability, made it difficult to mass fire, and exposed us to enfilading machine-gun bursts. Still, in 2011, in the Pashmul District of Kandahar Province, single…


RightWeb
share