Beyond “The Ad”: Getting Back to Substance in the Petraeus Controversy

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PetraeusNYTad.jpg
My former boss, Senator Jeff Bingaman, did not vote with others to condemn MoveOn.org‘s recent ads attacking David Petraeus. Bingaman votes his conscience — and sometimes that is a lonely exercise. I remember when he was just one of four votes — along with Richard Lugar, Christopher Dodd, and someone else — who voted against the Helms-Burton legislation designed to strangle Cuba and Cubans while essentially undermining American interests.
Here is the breakdown of the vote today condemning the “General Betray Us” ad.
Unfortunately, the MoveOn ad has now taken the limelight away from what is really important and what should be debated. Americans and Iraqis are dying in a war where it’s clear that progress is negative on the political front and at best nuanced on the military front.
What Senators should be doing instead of the distracting vote held today is to debate what is going on inside Iraq as well as whether America’s objectives are being met or not — and whether those objectives are connected at all to crucial American interests. For an increasing number of people, this war is seen as an unmitigated disaster.
I want the focus back on the issue of Petraeus’s testimony and what it means politically. My colleague, Steve Coll, wrote this on Petraeus in a September 24 New Yorker piece titled “General Accounting,” but this bit is worth extra emphasis:

Petraeus also apparently clings to the belief that Iraq’s sectarian leaders might reconcile if American forces stay the course. This opinion, shared by many in the Bush Administration, has encouraged yet another generation of unconvincing strategic plans that assume that a unified Iraq governed from Baghdad is attainable and that thousands of American troops might help patrol the capital’s streets for years.
A more plausible strategy, devoted to managing as successfully as possible the informal sectarian partition of Iraq which is already well under way, has again been postponed, along with substantial troop reductions.
American majorities repudiated the Vietnam War and have repudiated the invasion of Iraq. They did not lack guts then or now; they saw past the false promises and manipulations of their leaders, and called time.
George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden appear to share the belief that the United States is chronically afflicted with a cut-and-run syndrome, but they are both wrong: the most striking aspect of American democracy during the catastrophe in Iraq today is not the public’s inconstancy but, rather, its capacity to absorb thousands of casualties on behalf of a war that is widely understood as a mistake and has no foreseeable end.

Coll’s take is very bleak — and very real — and is what the real debate should be about.
As Chris Matthews recently said, “the ad didn’t kill anybody.”
— Steve Clemons

Comments

39 comments on “Beyond “The Ad”: Getting Back to Substance in the Petraeus Controversy

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  4. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Blah blah blah….of Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack (whom you probably hate despite both of them being blue-blooded liberals)….blah blah blah”
    ROFLMAO!!!!!
    What a load of unmitigated horseshit. I thought we put that myth to rest.
    Jackass.

    Reply

  5. Kathleen says:

    kotzabasis… speaking of weakness in debate, maybe you could get explicit in your claim that the MoveOn.org ad was against the troops and not just Patraeus?

    Reply

  6. kotzabasis says:

    Keith M Ellis
    Just for the record. I’M NOT claiming to speak for 160,000 soldiers. But is it “really absurd”, in your opinion, to use the AUTHORITATIVE statements of Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack (whom you probably hate despite both of them being blue-blooded liberals)who since their last post surge visit in Iraq have stated that the troops in Iraq consider General Petareus to be a SUPERB commander.
    And just to remind you of elementary things. Abuse is no substitute for argument. And those who use it are cowardly because of their fundamental frailty and weakness in debate.

    Reply

  7. Keith M Ellis says:

    Steve, sorry to interrupt the clown show which is your comments section, but you have a typo in your New Yorker “General Accounting” link. It’s missing the initial “h” of “http”.
    kotzabasis, you read like an inept PR flunkie. It’s really absurd–and, frankly, cowardly–to claim to speak for 160,000 soldiers when you do not. At the very least, try to be clever when you attempt to falsely appropriate authority to bolster your otherwise bland and predictable arguments. You know, like the other people here.

    Reply

  8. Carroll says:

    Posted by kotzabasis at September 22, 2007 05:15 AM
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    You have no idea what those 160,000 soldiers really think now do you?
    Military training is like brainwashing, it has to be in a way, to make the military work. But like all other groups you will find followers who will never question and you will find leaders who will go against the grain and state the obvious.

    Reply

  9. Kathleen says:

    Carroll, I hadn’t heard about the Palestinian youth being bulldozed before your comment…looks like someone has some atoning to do today, to understate the case. My oldest friend is Jew who is extremely anti-Zionist. Much to his mother’s dismay, yesterday he called them Nazis. It’s a tough spot to be Jewish and not a kneee jerk supporter of Israel. I’m grateful for those who have the emotional stamina to withstand the peer pressure.

    Reply

  10. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Maybe if we taser Harry Reid, he’ll wake the hell up.”
    Not likely. But judging from the news emanating out of Washington these days, a lubricated Gerbil might get a rise out of ‘im.

    Reply

  11. Kathleen says:

    kotzabasis.. arm chair warrior par excellence. Now go take your Viagra like a good little impotent, so you can feel all macho.
    A cheap debating trick is to stretch the opponent’s argument, so they can appear to be backing away from their original position when they correct the exaggeration. The MoveOn ad told the truth about General Patraeus and had nothing to do with the actual fighting troops.
    Just having a bunch of scrap medal on your chest doens’t make an officer a hero. Does Patraeus actually have combat experience, or is he just a desk jockey? I think I’ll trust his superior officer’s opinion of his ass kissing talents.
    Thank you, Russ Feingold, again. Maybe if we taser Harry Reid, he’ll wake the hell up.

    Reply

  12. kotzabasis says:

    Yes I do Carrol! I have the “experience” of 160,000 American soldiers presently serving in Iraq who are winning purple hearts, bronze stars, and silver stars GALORE with their heroic stand against the stealthy murderous insurgents, and who consider, I repeat, General Petraeus to be a SUPERB commander (not a “suck up”)and are honored and proud to serve under his LEADERSHIP.
    So if you follow with intellectual rigor your own logic, 160,000 EXPERIENCED soldiers who think differently from your brother about the subject Petraeus, surely and decisively TRUMP the “experience” of your brother. So by your own logic you too must accept the appraisal, of all those STAR-LADEN soldiers, of General Petraeus. And hence come to the same conclusion, like myself, that the MoveON ad was a betrayal of the troops serving in Iraq, and by implication a betrayal of America.

    Reply

  13. Carroll says:

    It was a shameful attack upon the military frontline US forces and the soldier-savants like David Petraeus who are the real and only defenders of America against this onslaught of fanatic barbarians. In the chronicles of this war the “add” will be written with the obloquy it deserves.
    Posted by kotzabasis at September 21, 2007 08:23 AM
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    May I ask if you have any military combat experience? Or any military experience?
    I don’t, but my older brother was a three purple hearts, two bronze stars and one silver star Marine Lt. in Vietnam.
    And he says Petraeus is a prime example of some of the “political” generals in the military,..he called them total “suck ups” and “desk managers”.

    Reply

  14. karenk says:

    Bush condemned Moveon.org saying the ad about Petraeus was disgusting. True to form Move on shot right back with their own response, “What’s disgusting is that the president has more interest in political attacks than developing an exit strategy to get our troops out of Iraq and end this awful war”
    http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/09/20/bush.petraeus/?iref=mpstoryview
    The Dems have a few things to learn from Move on…you have to come RIGHT BACk and attack them rather than waiting and defending against attacks
    THE BEST DEFENSE IS A GOOD OFFENSE

    Reply

  15. JohnH says:

    The good news from the MoveOn condemnation is that the Vichy Democrats have all revealed themselves.

    Reply

  16. John Hofer says:

    Democraps are truly pathetic. They never learn. Every time they cave to Bush, they look like saps. Only by fighting and showing strength of character can they ever hope to regain the trust of the American people. If Democraps can’t fight Bush, how could they possibly have the fortitude to fight Osama?
    MoveOn polled its membership to see if they should support primary challengers to the Democratic collaborators. I hope they do.

    Reply

  17. Sandy says:

    Remember Rachel Corrie! Thank you, Carroll. Tragic. Outrageous!
    And, thank you, as always, POA, for your passion and truth-telling. Exactly!
    And, Marcia….Marcia….Marcia….
    Right On! 🙂

    Reply

  18. Carroll says:

    Teen crushed by Israeli bulldozer in Gaza
    AFP – Thursday, September 20 01:13 pmGAZA CITY (AFP) – A 16-year-old Palestinian boy was killed on Thursday after being run over by an Israeli army bulldozer during a military incursion in the Gaza Strip, medics and witnesses said.
    Mahmud Kayed was run over by the bulldozer when it lurched towards a group of youths throwing rocks at the vehicle during the army incursion in the Al-Bureij refugee camp, they said.
    Israeli bulldozers were ripping up farmland in the area, while soldiers were going house to house searching for militants and weapons, they said.
    No comment from the Israeli army was immediately available.
    The death brings to 5,866 the number of people killed since the start of the second Palestinian uprising in in September 2000, the vast majority of them Palestinians, according to an AFP tally
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    The bulldozer “lurched”? I guess bulldozing Rachel Corrie worked out so well that dozers have become the weapon of choice against children.

    Reply

  19. PissedOffAmerican says:

    By the way, Anbar province is 8% of the Iraqi population. That means that the next time Petraeus or Bush says “Anbar”, we can probably fit the whole damned province exactly where they can shove it.

    Reply

  20. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Good grief, how fuckin’ stupid do some of you think the average American is? Petraeus is the military equation that intitially tried to sell us the bullshit “bio-labs on wheels”. He is the mewling whore that got that bit of propaganda rolling, setting the scene for this criminal piece of shit Bush to say “we found the weapons of mass destruction”.
    To represent Petraeus as anything other than a mouthpiece for the White House taxes all common sense and and hope for honesty when debating this historical clusterfuck of epic proportions.
    And who the hell are these whining hypocrites that decry the condemnation of some pissant abomination of a General who sells his troop’s lives for political favor, after the way they treated Shinzeki, and other active and retired generals that have condemned this fucking dog and pony show in Iraq? This is an Administration that rewards failure and punishes accuity and competence. Just look at Petraeus’ assigned tasks in Iraq prior to being elevated to whore status; dismal failures, one and all. So why should we respect ANYONE that has presided over this disaster on ANY level?
    There IS NO debate or “controversy” here. Petreaus is a lying mewling whore, tasked to sell us a failed, damaging, and criminal enterprise, and his efforts are being funded with the blood of our children, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi VICTIMS.
    Fallon had it right, Petraeus is an ass-kissing little chickenshit. And anyone that denies it also denies history, and common sense.

    Reply

  21. jonst says:

    erichwwk,
    In my opinion you understand exactly what is going on here when you note:
    >>>I wish we could have a more dignified and adult discussion on the merits of policy. But unfortunately that is not the arena in which this game is being played – the Move On ad did us all a tremendous service, by clarification the integrity of Democrats and their willingness to recognize and speak the truth<<<<<
    I wish we could that same debate. But, to a certain extent, this not a chess match we’re playing. This is a knife fight. The stakes? The Republic.

    Reply

  22. sdemetri says:

    Fanatic barbarians…? A much better description of them is found here:
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-275577066688213413

    Reply

  23. erichwwk says:

    Thanks Steve, for the info re Bingaman’s vote and thank you Selise for expanding on that.
    Wes Clark has gone public with a pretty decent exposition of how Move On was essentially accurate in describing what General Petraeus did in misleading the country, from the unification of the Sunni’s in Anbar providence PRECEDING the surge by two months, to the giving of cash to the Sunni’s, to the fact that they are merely temporarily accepting this cash to buy arms for the ultimate civil war. Both the “surge” and the Anbar policy will come back as blowback in the same way stinger missiles given to the Taliban in Afghanistan came back. Nothing new here as we play musical chairs and Sugar Daddy to folks we alternately call insurgents, terrorists, or freedom fighters, depending on some mythical temporary advantage someone sees. Of course those in the business of selling weapons of death and destruction are laughing all the way to the bank where gold, Euro’s, and Canadian dollars may be the better bet. Hope folks are making good financial choices in caring for their families.
    Expect the fight to get more intense. Here in New Mexico folks are being ticketed for displaying anti-war bumper stickers, with one policeman for every 7-10 protesters. http://tinyurl.com/yupbl6
    I wish we could have a more dignified and adult discussion on the merits of policy. But unfortunately that is not the arena in which this game is being played – the Move On ad did us all a tremendous service, by clarification the integrity of Democrats and their willingness to recognize and speak the truth
    “Whatever you may suffer, speak the truth. Be worthy of the entire confidence of your associates. Consider what is right as to what must be done. It is not necessary that you should keep your property, or even your life, but it is necessary that you should hold fast to your integrity.”
    William Ellery Channing, to his son, a soldier in the Civil War.

    Reply

  24. jonst says:

    There it is Steve…there it is. Rovian masterpiece. See Kotzabasis. Have the military man be the messenger….criticize the policy the messenger is delivering, and in particular, the messenger himself, and you are trying to “kill the spirit, the dedication, and the moral fortitude” of the front line troops. There it is Steve. A side note, man oh man oh man….how things must have changed since my time in the Marine Corp if our men and, now women, can be threatened by a single ad. I don’t believe that for a second.

    Reply

  25. kotzabasis says:

    Clemons quotes Chris Matthews’wiseacre, “the ad didn’t kill anybody” as being Solomonic wisdom. The add certainly didn’t physically kill anybody. But it certainly attempted to kill the spirit, the dedication, and the moral fortitude of all American soldiers in Iraq who consider and applaud General Petraeus as being a SUPERB commander, and are honored and proud to serve under him.
    It was a shameful attack upon the military frontline US forces and the soldier-savants like David Petraeus who are the real and only defenders of America against this onslaught of fanatic barbarians. In the chronicles of this war the “add” will be written with the obloquy it deserves.

    Reply

  26. jonst says:

    The focus should be on why it appears that the mandate of the 06 elections has been totally ineffective, at best, attacked and countered, at worst, in the Congress. Why are there MORE troops over there when the vast majority of the American people want/ed less? Because Rove altered the dynamic after 06. He got Rummy and the ‘old generals’ out as the Congressional faces of the war (testifying/appearances on TV)and replaced them with Petraeus. And let a military man become the Willie Loman for a policy designed to counter the 06 mandate on the grounds that ‘who would dare criticize him? Why, they would be criticizing the entire American military at time of war!’
    This is the way, or one of the ways, that democracies crumble. It is democracy and the separation of the civilian from the military that Petraeus betrayed. When he was called on it, the trap was sprung. ‘how dare you criticize the American military!!!!!????’ This was the debate. This was the moment to stand up to this kind of shit. The Senate backed down. The talking heads in DC, always alert for a chance to suck up the military industrial complex led the parade. The people like Steve, the ‘serious people’ quickly said…’lets move away from this kind of thing, and get back to the real business of establishing a coherent Iraq policy’. Steve, et al….it is exactly this ‘kind of thing’ that sets policy in the first place. Now the bully wants to rub our faces in this strategy. Wants us to embrace, indeed, celebrate, our own disenfranchisement. I salute the 20 some Senators who stood up to this crap and voted no. Ignore this at your (and our) peril Steve.
    Carter, your the type of person who personifies the old Dem party. Lets hope you do not personify the new one.

    Reply

  27. Marcia says:

    George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden appear to share the belief that the United States is chronically afflicted with a cut-and-run syndrome, but they are both wrong: the most striking aspect of American democracy during the catastrophe in Iraq today is not the public’s inconstancy but, rather, its capacity to absorb thousands of casualties on behalf of a war that is widely understood as a mistake and has no foreseeable end.
    To call this invasion and occupation a mistake is an understatement…what accused in the box would not like to do the same – his crimes just mistakes, not crimes at all.
    Soon they will be telling us that even Cheney is human, that to err is human and forgiveness a great virtue. This agression was carefully planned, executed – a premditated “mistake,” prepared in advance by the President in a speach
    on the change in policy to “Premptive War.”
    Since then it has been one step at a time, one mistake” after another fully documented by lies secrecy and corruption.

    Reply

  28. Marcia says:

    Carter:
    Offensive, really? I could not disagree with you more. This administration and its welded at the hip vassels have betrayed the Constitution, their offices, and the American people on every occasion, no trick too underhanded, no smear too vile, no travesty of justice too low…they don’t do body count.
    In seven long years they have turned our country into a circus freak, squeezed the poor like lemons to extract the last dime, perverted foreign policy to increase their “vital interests” for which our young men and women and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians are dying and their puppet General, this political tool who will be discarded when he has served his purpose, is presented as as an illumination from above, and to declare this a betrayal is offensive?
    I find it offensive that the young dead are smuggled home in the dark of night, that children are deprived of healthcare, that real human values – courage, integrity, judgement, and character – along with our civil right are ground to dust..that is offensive, like the stench that emanates from festive Washington.

    Reply

  29. Carter says:

    I have been a MoveOn member and contributor 4 years at least. I found the “Betray Us” headline beyond comprehension. How could MoveOn be so stupid as to not see how offensive that headline was?
    I resigned from MoveOn last week. Will the Left never learn?

    Reply

  30. Carroll says:

    BTW, that’s 71% on our side against Bush and 89% on our side against congress.
    I think we can take them while the military and NG is tied down in Iraq.
    Let’s Role!

    Reply

  31. Carroll says:

    Iran is not the problem. And everyone knows it.
    Washington is our problem and every one outside of Washington knows it.
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress registered record-low approval ratings in a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.
    Only 29 percent of Americans gave Bush a positive grade for his job performance.
    A paltry 11 percent rated Congress positively, beating the previous low of 14 percent in July.
    “The public mood is not just dark. What’s darker than dark?” Zogby said. “The mood is getting ugly.”
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    The public mood is getting ugly? Good, it’s about time! Faster please.
    “BURN WASHINGTON TO THE GROUND AND START OVER”

    Reply

  32. .... says:

    ‘stay the course’ has been replaced with ‘stay the course’. but it is fun to have regular distractions to distract the folks…these friggen neo retarts haven’t changed their tactics much… steve you have done well in noting this one.. thanks-

    Reply

  33. Stephen H says:

    It’s just amazing to me that Republicans are still milking the move-on ad. What’s it been – 2 weeks now? And yet the Washington Post has a headline as if it’s breaking news. You got to hand it to Republicans – they know how to work the media. The real (untold) story is how political Petraeus really is – I’ll bet that not one in twenty Americans knows that he intends to run as a Republican for president in 2012.
    The other thing is Harry Reid’s pathetic leadership. The fact that the only bill the Senate can pass is a Republican bill designed to make Democrats look bad speaks volumes about who really controls the Senate. Democrats need to find leadership that knows how to deal with Lott and the Republican fillibuster because Reid is completley outclassed.

    Reply

  34. S Brennan says:

    Steve,
    Good post.
    Good on you.
    POA where’d you get this >>>>> from?
    As they say on the PBS commercial, “be more original”

    Reply

  35. Sandy says:

    Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com has the best commentary about the hypocrisy of the NEOCONSERVATIVES’ smear tactics. Well worth a read.
    Good luck getting a straight answer, easy e (and POA).

    Reply

  36. easy e says:

    From prior post:…………
    I’ll bite, Steve. Just what the hell are “Iran’s nuclear intentions”? I don’t expect a straight answer from you, because you have been rattling the same swords Bush is, albeit a bit more vaquely.
    Now, I’m asking you straight out. What are Irans “nuclear intentions”, and so what?
    Tell ya what, I see the same fucking horseshit playing out about Iran that we saw playing out about Iraq. And these bastards that are feeding us this fear mongering crap are evil to their core.
    Where do YOU stand? SPECIFICALLY, without all the bullshit.
    Posted by: PissedOffAmerican at September 20, 2007 11:57 PM
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Well, Steve? We’d all like to know.

    Reply

  37. MarkL says:

    I’m going to contribute to MoveOn for the first time in support of their ad. I think they were right on target: this administration is not just about the depravity of Bush and Cheney: it’s also about the the venial enablers of these monsters. The mediocrity of the remnants of the Bush supporters provides ample proof of Arendt’s observation.
    Petraues IS a liar, AND he is betraying the troops.
    MoveOn’s followup ad about Giuliani is just right.
    If the thought of offending the delicate flowers of the right wing is too much for the Democrats, there reall is no hope. Also, as John Aravosis noted, if Petraeus really was sulking in his tent over this ad (as reported), then how can he stand up to Al Qaeda?

    Reply

  38. JohnH says:

    Or maybe we should just get back to the basics. What is the mission in Iraq for?
    WMD-not
    Freedom and democracy-not
    Stability-what for?
    To prevent a sectarian war–like the one already underway?
    To protect Iraqis-since when did Bush give a fig about that?
    Come on, foreign policy elite/national security mob, what is this war for? You OWE us an answer.
    But there is no answer. Therefore, the answer is NOTHING. For this upwards of a million Iraqis get killed?

    Reply

  39. selise says:

    steve – there were two amendments that condemned moveon. senator bingaman voted “no” on Cornyn Amdt. No. 2934 but he voted “yes” on Boxer Amdt. No. 2947 (which condemned moveon as well as the swiftboating of senator kerry, max cleland…).
    sad to say almost all the D senators were willing to condemn the very people who worked their asses off to help but them in the majority (i was one of those people, so i’m pretty pissed right now).
    senator feingold was the only senator to vote no on both amendments.

    Reply

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