Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 11, 2007

Petraeus the Communicator

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.
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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.

So, when the surge started making progress this summer, the American public didn’t have to rely on what the White House said to figure out what was going on. There were a larger number of independent observers who have traveled the battlefield extensively to provide an unbiased picture of what’s gone right, as well as what’s still going wrong.

Whatever the final outcome, officers in the future would be well advised to study Petraeus’s approach as a textbook example of 21st century “information operations.”

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China’s Secret Police: A Growth Opportunity

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.
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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.

So I was not prepared for the front page of today’s New York Times. A story featured there, “An Opportunity for Wall Street in China’s Surveillance Boom,” describes “China Security and Surveillance Technology, a fast-growing company that installs and sometimes operates surveillance systems for Chinese police agencies, jails and banks, among other customers,” and which has “just been approved for a listing on the New York Stock Exchange.” The story went on to list some American investors who have put money into this promising growth stock.

Even as I tap out these words on my train home I cannot quite believe what I read. Wall Street, it seems, sees the ever-increasing sophistication of China’s secret police apparatus not as a threat to the basic rights of all people—but as a “growth opportunity.”

I applaud the Times for breaking the story and with such alarming detail. I hope they will follow up with an editorial advocating a “Foreign Oppressive Practices Act.” We need such a law even more desperately than I had realized.

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Air Strike in Syria

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.

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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.

I think an added benefit, and one that was perhaps alluded to by the U.S. in the above quote, is that the mission provided an opportunity to test Syria’s new Russian anti-aircraft system–equipment, incidentally, that Russia has also sold to Iran. Time magazine reports:

In August, Syria reportedly received from Russia the first batch of 50 Pantsyr S1E short-range air defense systems, part of an alleged sale worth almost $1 billion. The deal is said to have been financed by Iran, which reportedly will receive from Syria some of the Pantsyr units and deploy them to protect its nuclear facilities. The recently developed Pantsyr, which its Russian manufacturers claim is immune to jamming, includes surface-to-air missiles and 30mm Gatling guns, providing complete defensive coverage for a range of eleven to twelve miles and six miles in altitude. Pantsyr batteries could pose a serious challenge to either an Israeli or a U.S. air strike on Iran. So were the Israeli aircraft playing a perilous game of chicken to assess the capabilities of the Pantsyr system in response to their countermeasures? Some in Syria believe so.

“There seems to be a consensus here that the Israelis were testing Syrian air defense systems,” Andrew Tabler, Damascus-based editor of Syria Today, told TIME.

If Israel was indeed testing Syria’s (and Iran’s) new air defenses, then those defenses obviously have failed—and badly enough, I hope, to give Syria and Iran a serious case of buyer’s remorse.

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Moving away from MoveOn.org

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.

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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.

But rather than following Senator Clinton’s lead, increasing segments of the Democratic congress—not just its activist base—are instead taking the cheapest possible shots against one of the most lauded generals in the field. Prior to yesterday’s testimony, an unnamed Democratic Senator told a reporter, “No one wants to call [Petraeus] a liar on national TV. . . . The expectation is that the outside groups will do this for us.” And, save for Senators Biden and Lieberman, no prominent Democrats have renounced MoveOn’s disgusting advertisement.

The important question is: where does the Democratic Party—which was not always so enraged by the sight of a man in uniform—stand on this slander? At yesterday’s hearing, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen began her remarks by stating, “I offer my colleagues the opportunity to use this hearing to distance themselves from the despicable ad that was published today calling into question the patriotism of General Petraeus.” From off-screen, someone shouted “Point of order! No one has to distance themselves from something they weren’t associated with.” The Associated Press reports that it was Representative Neil Abercrombie, Democrat of Hawaii.

Mr. Abercrombie in particular may not need to apologize, but the same cannot be said for his superiors. As a story in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine makes clear, MoveOn.org is closely tied to senior Democrats on the Hill, through a subsidiary group, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (A.A.E.I), which was founded shortly after last November’s congressional election. A.A.E.I’s leader Tom Matzzie, according to the Times, “communicates on a near-daily basis” with the “offices of Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill.” A.A.E.I “coordinates extensively with Democrats on Capitol Hill. Matzzie himself meets with Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, ‘maybe once a month,’ he says, adding that he talks to their staffs ‘once a day, or at least a couple times a week.’ (Senior Democratic aides sometimes even join A.A.E.I’s conference calls.)”

Perhaps the reason why more Democrats have not spoken out against MoveOn.org’s slander against General Petraeus is that they are complicit in disseminating it.

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Joining the Jackals

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.”

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.”

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Deny, Deny, Deny

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.”

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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.”

Fisk is hardly alone in Europe: there is also now a new book, Zero, edited by Italian Member of the European Parliament Giulietto Chiesa, with contributions from the novelist and essayist Gore Vidal and the philosopher David Ray Griffin, and published by the very mainstream publishing house Piemme. Zero offers 400 pages of “exposure” of the alleged U.S. government conspiracy behind 9/11. Reviewers of Zero have highlighted troubling parallels with Holocaust denial techniques. The book does not deny the general outline of events, but questions the established, specific facts. It seeks to discredit reports, evidence, and eye-witnesses, and it denies that the attacks were the work of Islamic fundamentalists.

Having proceeded to plant the seeds of doubt, it then asks the usual question: who benefits? You can take your pick from Zero’s conspiratorial cosomology: the military-industrial complex; the Jews (and any variation thereof); the neoconservatives; George W. Bush; or any other lurking evil.

The urge to deny the undeniable spreads like a wildfire, especially when it serves ulterior motives. It’s been only six years since 9/11. But efforts to blame the victims of a heinous crime and exculpate the perpetrators are already, it seems, migrating into mainstream discourse.

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World War IV

Today, Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism becomes available at bookstores everywhere. Drawing on Podhoretz’s seminal essays in COMMENTARY, World War IV addresses the most serious topic of our time—the battle against global Islamist terror—with its author’s customary force, wit, clarity, and courage. See below for our interview with Podhoretz about his book.

Today, Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism becomes available at bookstores everywhere. Drawing on Podhoretz’s seminal essays in COMMENTARY, World War IV addresses the most serious topic of our time—the battle against global Islamist terror—with its author’s customary force, wit, clarity, and courage. See below for our interview with Podhoretz about his book.

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