There were no real surprises on Capitol Hill when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker showed up yesterday to present their reports. This was due, in large part, to the success that Petraeus had in laying the groundwork for their much-anticipated visit. He is an unusually open military commander who is not suspicious of journalists or legislators or scholars intruding in his “battlespace.” In fact he does everything possible to facilitate such visits. (I am one of many who is grateful to him for his hospitality.)
That marks a sharp a contrast with the previous senior U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, who tended to view public relations as a second-order concern. Petraeus realizes that no modern commander can have the luxury of ignoring public opinion, either at home or around the world, so he has been careful to “shape” the public opinion climate prior to his Washington appearance.
This does not mean, I hasten to add, that he is engaging in lying or spinning, as charged by some irresponsible critics. He is not peddling propaganda. He realizes that any lie would be exposed quickly and that the best interests of the mission dictate that he get the whole truth out to the public. Thus, he has been as open and accommodating to skeptics of the “surge”—e.g., Anthony Cordesmen and Ken Pollack—as he has been to supporters of the surge, such as Fred Kagan and me. And he has taken steps to improve the access of the news media to the battlefield, knowing that reporters will deliver a more nuanced and accurate picture from the frontlines.
This morning I spent an hour with a U.S. Senator discussing how hearings tomorrow about the safety of Chinese-made toys might be used to address larger issues. I suggested that we need a “Foreign Oppressive Practices Act.” Such an act would curtail the complicity of American manufacturers and investors with a labor regime in China under which the full police powers of the state are deployed to prevent Chinese workers from organizing, and to ensure they remain vulnerable to harassment and exploitation. Just as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, already on the books, forbids American companies from bribery abroad, a Foreign Oppressive Practices Act would require American companies to deal only with factories meeting certain basic labor standards. The law would also forbid American companies from investing in or dealing with or transferring technology to any foreign organizations devoted, for example, to internet censorship or the tracking of dissidents.
I also expressed my support for measures that would impose countervailing tariffs until Beijing makes the yuan fully convertible—like the dollar, the ruble, and even the Kazakh tenge. For their part, the Senator’s staffers had prepared a dramatic map showing how investment in China and China’s trade surplus pass through that country to emerge as aid to states such as Sudan, Zimbabwe, Iran, and North Korea. I left the meeting encouraged that American politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, were beginning to take seriously the problems created by our see-no-evil trade policy with China and the harm it does to the world economy, to our national security, and the security of our allies.
CNN is reporting that the mysterious story last week of Israeli aircraft that allegedly violated Syrian airspace was, in fact, an Israeli air strike on an unspecified target in Syria—a strike that might even have involved ground forces. What did the IAF target? The most obvious answer: weapons in transit from Iran to Hizballah that were of sufficient danger to Israel that the mission, even given the serious risks it entailed, was deemed necessary. Iran and Syria have been supplying Hizballah with weapons for years, and, obviously, it has not been Israeli policy regularly to target such smuggling. In this case, I suspect, the weapons in question were long-range guided missiles that would enable Hizballah to threaten Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Specific target information will probably not be forthcoming, but it looks as though the U.S. is happy with the results of the mission:
Sources in the U.S. government and military confirmed to CNN’s Barbara Starr that the air strike did happen, and that they are happy to have Israel carry the message to both Syria and Iran that [it] can get in and out and strike when necessary.
Below, Max Boot writes of the liberal pressure group MoveOn.org’s slanderous attack on General David Petraeus in yesterday’s New York Times, essentially accusing him of treason, which Boot rightly notes “will only further cement the impression in the minds of many soldiers, whether rightly or wrongly, that the leftist base of the Democratic Party is ‘anti-military.’”
Of course, legislators are entirely justified in criticizing General Petraeus’s assessment of the war. Civilian control of the military is a basic feature of any genuine democracy. Senator Clinton demonstrated this sort of constructive criticism yesterday when she told General Petraeus, “If this hearing were being held three years ago, I would have a much higher degree of optimism. It has nothing to do with the loyalty, the warrior skills, and the leadership of our men and women in uniform.” Her frustration is with the Bush administration, not with the individuals of the armed services. Which is how it should be.
The Bush administration’s diplomacy and war management, however, is a subject wholly separate from General Petraeus’s personal integrity or character. This is a distinction that the slanderers at MoveOn.org willingly ignore, in their desire to conflate General Petraeus’s motives with the allegedly nefarious motives of the Bush administration.
Peter Feaver, a political scientist who until recently worked at the National Security Council, suggests, in this Boston Globe article, that MoveOn.org’s outrageous attack on General David Petraeus—they call our senior military commander in Iraq, a man who has spent three out of the last four years on the frontlines of the war, “General Betray Us”—may be the antiwar movement’s “McCarthy moment,” when its vile personal slanders lead to widespread revulsion among the general public.
That may or may not happen, but at the very least this ad will further undermine the conceit of the antiwar crowd that they speak on behalf of soldiers, and it will no doubt hinder efforts by Democrats to get back into the good graces of our military. Especially when so few Democrats—so far only Joe Lieberman and Joe Biden—have been willing to condemn MoveOn.org.
Such vitriolic outpourings against any senior American officer would provoke a strong backlash within the armed forces. This is all the more true when it comes to someone as respected as David Petraeus. No one who has ever met him can doubt his devotion to “duty, honor, country”—the credo of his alma mater, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. There is not, of course, a scintilla of evidence that he is “cooking the books,” as MoveOn.org alleges. Such charges will only further cement the impression in the minds of many soldiers, whether rightly or wrongly, that the leftist base of the Democratic Party is “anti-military.”
As we fast approach the sixth anniversary of 9/11, conspiracy theorists who believe the atrocities were the work of the U.S. government are multiplying in Europe, and, what’s more worrisome, their views are being endorsed by voices that are more mainstream—at least by European standards.
Until recently, there had been only one instance of such denial: Thierry Meyssen’s book, L’Effroyable Imposture, published in 2002 to popular acclaim. Now, this somewhat isolated, if hugely popular book predictably finds itself as the first of a new genre.
A salvo from the Euro-truthers recently appeared in the British daily the Independent, penned and signed by Robert Fisk. To many in America, Fisk is not the most credible source. But in Europe, he’s highly regarded; his recent column on 9/11 may well grant a new legitimacy to 9/11 denial. Fisk writes that
I am increasingly troubled at the inconsistencies in the official narrative of 9/11. It’s not just the obvious non sequiturs: where are the aircraft parts (engines, etc) from the attack on the Pentagon? Why have the officials involved in the United 93 flight (which crashed in Pennsylvania) been muzzled? Why did flight 93′s debris spread over miles when it was supposed to have crashed in one piece in a field? Again, I’m not talking about the crazed “research” of David Icke’s Alice in Wonderland and the World Trade Center Disaster—which should send any sane man back to reading the telephone directory.
I am talking about scientific issues. If it is true, for example, that kerosene burns at 820 degrees Centigrade under optimum conditions, how come the steel beams of the twin—whose melting point is supposed to be about 1,480 degrees Centigrade—would snap through at the same time? (They collapsed in 8.1 and 10 seconds.) What about the third tower—the so-called World Trade Center Building 7 (or the Salomon Brothers Building)—which collapsed in 6.6 seconds in its own footprint at 5:20 p.m. on 11 September? Why did it so neatly fall to the ground when no aircraft had hit it? The American National Institute of Standards and Technology was instructed to analyze the cause of the destruction of all three buildings. They have not yet reported on WTC 7. Two prominent American professors of mechanical engineering—very definitely not in the “raver” bracket—are now legally challenging the terms of reference of this final report on the grounds that it could be “fraudulent or deceptive.”