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The O’Hanlon/Pollack Bamboozlement

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I have been following with some interest the outcome of the trip that Michael O’Hanlon, Ken Pollack and Anthony Cordesman made to Iraq. It generated an op-ed by O’Hanlon and Pollack in the New York Times back on July 30 which was hyped to the rafters in the media. Vice President Cheney and a number of others heralded this as a significant turning point–two “critics” of the Iraq War, it appeared, suddenly recognized that it was going the right way.

For those who are awake, this should have brought back memories: when Cheney pointed to the Judith Miller and Michael Gordon stories on Iraqi WMD developments and said that “even the liberal New York Times” now recognized the truth of the WMD claim. Of course, we now know that the sources for those stories included Ahmed Chalabi and members of Cheney’s own staff. Cheney was effectively citing himself as corroboration of his comments. This was press bamboozlement at its crudest.

And that’s what happened here. The third member of the delegation, and the only one whose reputation is not now in a tatters, was Anthony Cordesman. He also gave his views at a briefing organized at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Strategic and International Studies. You can watch the Cordesman briefing here. Cordesman followed up with a very careful, thoughtful report entitled “The Tenuous Case for Strategic Patience in Iraq.”(PDF) Cordesman’s paper is twenty-five pages long and it is well worth reading with some care. However, the title does well reflect the content of the report. Cordesman approaches the topic with skepticism and caution, and he isn’t prepared to take every briefing point laid before him in a slide presentation by the Baghdad Command as the Holy Writ. Cordesman’s approach couldn’t be more different from the O’Hanlon and Pollack treatment; indeed, Cordesman led his briefing by stressing that he saw nothing that suggested any dramatic changes in Iraq—directly contradicting O’Hanlon and Pollack.

The full force of the bamboozlement is measured not only in the megahype of the O’Hanlon and Pollack piece, but also in the fact that the completely contradictory view taken by the vastly more reputable source—Anthony Cordesman–disappeared straight down the media rat hole. Most people I have spoken with in the last week had no idea that Cordesman was also on the trip, much less that he came to different views.

This morning Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com has delivered what must be the definitive debunking to the whole O’Hanlon/Pollack scam. It’s a long tour of the facts, including a penetrating interview that Greenwald conducted with O’Hanlon. It’s worth the time to read in its entirety. And in the end it paints a convincing portrait of the whole affair: O’Hanlon and Pollack are revealed for what they are (which is, to be mild, not critics, but advocates of the war, tied closely to interests which promoted it and continue to egg it on). Yet the real take-away from this whole episode is something else. Even after all our experiences with the war and the lies that were disseminated to launch and maintain it, the war party continues to work its way with the media. There is no caution, no skepticism, just the faithful panting of a lapdog. No–make that an ankle-humper.

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