Commentary Magazine


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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.

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.