Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Difference Between Realism And Hackery

By Cernig

I suppose I should respond to Kevin Sullivan, since he cited links to two of my posts in the following:
But why is it that when one general talks policy he's accused of political hackery, yet when another talks policy he's applauded for being a "realist"?

Is it a double standard?
I think there are two elements to any response.

The first is that, as has been re-hashed time and time again, the military has a tradition of not talking up partisan political policy while still serving, but that Abizaid, unlike Petreaus, is retired from active service.

The second is that if a military man is going to push partisan policy, even out of a sincere belief in it, then telling big porkies is contra-indicated if he doesn't want to be accused of hackery.

Ilan Golberg presents the following graph:

And writes:
There are significant inconsistencies between the numbers General Petraeus showed to Congress regarding civilian casualties and the numbers in the Pentagon’s latest reports. Again, Petraeus’s numbers seem to make the period before the surge look worse and the numbers after the surge look much better.

...According to the MNC-I data there has been no improvement since either December (The numbers Petraeus and the Administration often cite) or February (when the surge actually began). Why wasn’t Congress shown these numbers in the presentation by General Petraeus? Why only the good news numbers? Why the lack of clarity on Petraeus’s sourcing? Especially since he himself acknowledged that the best numbers come from the MNC-I database.
Why indeed. Petreaus refusal to open his data or methodology to independent scrutiny smacks of political hackery in service of an agenda which is harming the national interest. If he has nothing to hide, why won't he release the figures?

And Ilan isn't the only one who has a problem with Saint Pet's charts. I posted a last week suggesting his EID Attacks chart had been massaged to make more look like less.

So yes, there are clear differences and no, it isn't a double standard.

Update Matt Yglesias riffs on a very related theme - the infamous MoveOn ad and reports from cossetted conservative pundits that Bush said "It is one thing to attack me — which is fine" and continued by saying that in his view the attack on Petraeus was "an attack on men and women in uniform."
The ad was, very clearly, on attack on General Petraeus and there's just no possible way a reasonable person could construe it as some kind of generalized slander against the troops.

Meanwhile, Bush's disingenuousness in saying "It is one thing to attack me — which is fine" is just staggering. For years, the man took the view that criticism of his policies amount to criticism of the idea of freedom, that to disagree with his Iraq policy was racist and unpatriotic, and all the rest. Eventually, years and years of fruitless, bungled, unnecessary warfare caused him to become so unpopular that this line of counterattack became unviable. Thus, he hit on the strategy of finding a well-regarded media-savvy general and, in essence, appointing him front man for administration. For months and months and months the administration indicated that to question its policy was to question the Great Man Petraeus. So, naturally, people came to criticize Petraeus.

If he doesn't like seeing a politicized officer's corps, he shouldn't have been hiding behind the generals in the first place.
And if the General doesn't like it, maybe he shouldn't be so keen to put himself and his doctored charts up as a wall to hide behind either.

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