Attacking General Petraeus: The Hysterics of the Anti-War Fringe

Hugh Hewitt
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Posted: Jul 20, 2007 12:59 AM
Attacking General Petraeus:  The Hysterics of the Anti-War Fringe

The decline of the leftwing netroots into one great, venomous snarl is far advanced, well-known, and much remarked upon by political observers from across the spectrum. But even given its deserved reputation for poisonous invective, the assault mounted against General David Petraeus surprises. General Petraeus made the unforgivable mistake in their eyes of appearing on my radio program and answering questions. (The transcript is here and the audio is here.) Both because he agreed to be interviewed by a journalist favorable to victory and supportive of President Bush and because his answers suggest progress is being made in Iraq, Petraeus has been savaged by leftist bloggers big and little.

Among center-right bloggers and pundits, the reaction of Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds was typical. “Every Member of Congress should have to read [the transcript]. Reynolds opined –the expected reaction of anyone interested in the facts about the surge. Others on the center-right applauded the general for agreeing to an extended interview and urging more, not fewer engagements with the press. For a couple of examples of thoughtful responses to the general’s answers, see

The Belmont Club and In From The Cold. (“The exceptionally high tempo of special forces activities suggests that they have been ‘unleashed’ in Iraq, and are engaging the enemy with deadly efficiency,” concludes the retired spook who is “In From The Cold.” “While most media reports focus on conventional units, engaged in large-scale operations such as the recent clearing of Baquba, there is another equally important conflict being waged in the shadows. And that’s where Al Qaeda is taking a major beating.” The Belmont Club’s Wretchard noted that in the interview “Petraeus gives us a glimpse into the sharp end of the war. The kinetic battle,” and he goes on to speculate on the long-term impact of the war’s tactics on the American military.)

Analysis of what the general actually said was in short supply among the critics. Even before he had read the transcript, Andrew Sullivan launched into one of his trademarks explosions of hysteria and slander. “I think such a decision to cater to one party's propaganda outlet renders Petraeus' military independence moot,” Sullivan declared. “I'll wait for the transcript,” he continued, before not waiting for the transcript. “But Petraeus is either willing to be used by the Republican propaganda machine or he is part of the Republican propaganda machine. I'm beginning to suspect the latter. The only thing worse than a deeply politicized and partisan war is a deeply politicized and partisan commander. But we now know whose side Petraeus seems to be on: Cheney's. Expect spin, not truth, in September.”(emphasis added.)

Even for a scribbler as discredited and cartoonish as Sullivan has become, the casual slander of General Petraeus’ integrity is breathtaking. Sullivan’s smear, however, was far from the worst the anti-war crowd produced in their pre-emptive assault on Petraeus’ status report on the surge, due in September. The famed “constitutional rights litigator” (self-described) Glenn Greenwald denounced General Petraeus for using “White House talking points

” and unveiled how he will be working overtime to dispute Petraeus’ September assessment:

Despite the Mandate Orthodoxy that Gen. Petraeus be treated as the Objective, Unassailably Credible Oracle for how we are doing in Iraq and whether we are winning, his track record of quite dubious claims over the last several years about the war strongly negates that view. It ought to go without saying that no military commander -- particularly in the midst of a disastrous four-year war -- is entitled to blind faith and to be placed above being questioned. It is not only proper, but critically necessary, to subject happy war claims from the military to great scrutiny.

The Atlantic’s Matthew Yglesias also blasted the general’s decision to be interviewed by me (a “lunatic”) and derisively labeled him as “The New Jesus.”

Over at The Carpetbagger Report, a post concluded:

And speaking of Petraeus, what should we expect from him come September? It’s probably best to lower expectations now. Petraeus’ credibility suffered a serious blow this week when he appeared on far-right activist Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, and stuck closely to the White House script.

Many of the comments that followed were as vile, an example of which is “Can you call him Betrayus now? He’s just an GOP stooge in a uniform.”

Ron Beasly began his assessment at Gun Toting Liberal with a slander on all active duty generals:

To reach the rank of general you have to be part politician, it has always been that way. A good general is always a general first and a politician second. Those who have been generals first have over the last six years be driven from the service by Donald Rumsfeld and the Bush administration. What we have left are men like General Petraeus. Not only a politician but a political hack. We know what he’s going to say in September because he said it all yesterday on wingnut radio, The Hugh Hewitt Show. On cue from Hugh he recited all the administration/neocon talking points.

At Talk Left, “Big Tent Democrat” thinks he’s more respectful of General Petraeus than some of his anti-war colleagues, but he too preemptively attributes deceitfulness to Petraeus in the September assessment:

Does anyone believe that a proud soldier like Petraeus will provide a sense that he can't succeed? Of course he will not. Heck, if he would, would you really want him to be leading the forces? Unlike Glenn, I am not as skeptical of Petraeus' intentions; I just realize he is human and the commander of the operation is not going to be the one to declare his operation a failure.

The paranoia that has gripped the “we must lose in Iraq” forces is exemplified by these graphs at “D-Day” blog:

I have little need to wait for a transcript. This has become a Defense Department strategy, intentionally reaching out to conservative bloggers and media types in order to get their "unfiltered message" out. They even have a name for it; the "Surrogates Option". Of course, those partisan ideologues that continue to defend the President are all too happy to scrupulously type up military propaganda. Because that's what it is.

This is nothing new in wartime, but it ought to be known that the General leading forces in Iraq is only speaking to partisan ideologues instead of any reporter that would ask a tough question. And Congress should use that as a guide when they take a look at his report in a couple months.

At Balloon Juice, John Cole’s bitterness at seeing the commander in Iraq be asked and answer a long series of straightforward questions the answer to which might encourage a reader/listener to believe in victory exploded into view:

I am actually pretty shocked that Gen. Petraeus took time from his busy schedule to appear on what is little more than an organ of the right-wing spin machine.

Just kidding. It isn’t surprising at all.

You would honestly think that the military, at the very least, would want their leadership to appear to be more than GOP party organs. Instead, Petraeus is appearing on Tinkerbell central, and now brings his credibility into question.

Excellent work, General. Was Limbaugh busy, or something?

I am not surprised that the Bush haters like Sullivan and Cole are outraged that General Petraeus would be interviewed by an admirer of the president, or that the anti-war extremists like Greenwald, Yglesias and the others cannot disguise their contempt for the military (though they think their attack on General Petraeus’ integrity won’t identify them as anti-military.)

I’m not surprised that new media journalists producing interviews of a sort far superior to what MSM serves up in one minute sound bytes excites the anger of folks who prefer their defeatist agendas advanced by a dominant MSM. They don’t want the Beltway-Manhattan media elites to lose their monopoly on “important” interviews as that means instead of Democratic journalists like Tim Russert, George Stephanopoulos and Chris Matthews asking defeat-slanted questions, new media outlets will step in and allow serious people to make extended arguments about the stakes in Iraq and the state of the various battles in the broader war on terror.

And I’m not surprised that the unmistakable signs of the tactical success of the surge has the gang breaking out in the sweats at the prospect of a change in some of the public’s view of Iraq. There’s a long time between now and November, 2008, and continued progress in Iraq and Afghanistan will leave the defeatist Democrats exposed as wholly unqualified to steward the national security of the United States.

What surprises me is that the extremists have fallen so deeply into their own narrative that they are wholly unaware of how their call for strict control of the news and their slander of the widely and rightly admired extraordinary hero that is General Petraeus exposes them to the public as deeply unbalanced, anti-intellectual and far, far removed from the mainstream of America. This disconnection from ordinary Americans is always obvious when a leftist resorts to the most foul sorts of profanity and vulgarity, but the rage that bubbles and erupts again and again is the sort of eye-opener that not even friends can ignore for very long. The demands for the Fairness Doctrine’s return displayed the same sort of zealotry in the attempt to shut down voices not in keeping with their own. The illiberal reflexiveness of the left tells you all you need to know about how they would govern if they ever got close to power.

The anger at the growing influence of center-right new media will grow. Rush Limbaugh enrages the left because he is so obviously and undeniably successful at building and maintaining the largest audience for a single point of view in the country. Little tiny bloggers generating a thousand visitors a day, or even large ones with a few tens of thousands of visitors a day, don’t begin to match even 1% of Limbaugh’s audience. Envy becomes fury in a hurry.

My program repeatedly gets their bile rising because it is –objectively—a place where serious people go for serious conversation about serious subjects, a product with a large and growing audience of smart, successful and usually patriotic people who are politically active, deeply compassionate, and extraordinarily supportive of the troops. Its audience dwarfs even the biggest of the lefty blogs, though not of course the MSM powerhouses. Again, envy becomes fury in a hurry on the left.

Bill Kristol, Fred Kagan, Fred Barnes, Michael Yon, John Burns, Mark Steyn, Max Boot –any member of the media or any intellectual—who is even open to the idea that the overthrow of Saddam was necessary and the fight for a stable, democratic Iraq a crucial moment for the world, one requiring victory over the butchers—is despised because they know what they know and refuse to let the debate end. They are influential because they are experienced and persuasive, and this enrages especially the obscure anti-war radical whom no one will listen to no matter how much evidence they accumulate that Tower 7 was an inside job and that steel doesn’t melt.

And any member of the military who speaks candidly about the necessity of victory and with confidence in our forces and with facts about their increasing success is going to get slimed by the extremists, even if it is General Petraeus. That’s just the cost of defending the country these days –exposure to all the many dangers war brings, and a relentless smear campaign from the very people you are keeping safe from terrorists and the religious extremists who would stone them the first week they had power over them.

The Administration and the Pentagon have never emphasized enough the direct engagement of the public via the new media, or even the old media in the extended, one-on-one form which is the very best form for explaining the war to the public. The ear-splitting shrieks of outrage at General Petraeus’ interview with me should be a huge signal that this is what the anti-war extremists fear most: The calm presentation of facts at length by those in a position to know them, engaged in an interview the unpredictability of which makes the exchange interesting. Speeches rarely hold the attention of an audience, which is why only small excerpts of them make it on air. Interviews –conducted professionally by a prepared host—can be riveting. The war on terror depends upon sustaining the will of the American people to fight it, and sustaining that will means giving the public the facts, again, and again and again. Making themselves available in at least 30 minute chunks to all sorts of skilled interviewers –Russert, Brit Hume, Charlie Rose, and Chris Wallace are the best on television, my colleagues at Salem, Bill Bennett, Dennis Prager, and Michael Medved, excel at the form as does Laura Ingraham, Dennis Miller and Sean Hannity—is the best way to educate the American public about what is going on in the war on its many fronts.

I and the vast vast majority of listeners/readers are grateful that General Petraeus made time at the end of a very long day for the interview, a day which is nowhere near the end of his three plus years of tremendous service in Iraq and thirty years of service and sacrifice on behalf of the country. I hope he continues to agree to appear on any show or to be interviewed by any blogger or journalist –left, right, or center-- who will treat him with respect and fairness. I hope the same thing for other senior military and civilian officials engaged in fighting the war. Allowing the know-nothing, anti-intellectual fringe to block the flow of information to the American public via invective, slander and scorn that would be to keep the best, most compelling testimony from the public at a time when they need it most.