Politics & Policy

The MoveOn Choice

Condemning Petraeus is condemning the troops.

The anti-Iraq-war crowd is always quick to say they “support the troops.” But it’s not an expression of support when you accuse the top “troop” of lying, cherry-picking facts, and serving as a uniformed mouthpiece for the president, especially when all evidence is to the contrary.

That’s exactly what MoveOn.org has done with its full-page ad in the New York Times, accusing the top “troop” — four-star Gen. David Petraeus — of “betraying” the nation he has sworn to defend against all enemies foreign and domestic. Many top Democrats — accepting backing from MoveOn and refusing to take a public stance against the organization’s very public condemnation of the general — are also guilty by association.

Worse, during this week’s Iraq-report hearings, many of those same Democrats lied on the record by expressing “respect” for the “distinguished” and “honorable” service of both Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker on the one hand, then accusing both men of presenting a report that required — in the words of Sen. Hillary Clinton — “the willing suspension of disbelief.”

They can’t have it both ways. Petraeus cannot be an honorable man (honorable men only tell the truth), and at the same time a liar who would betray his country. He’s one or the other.

The problem for the Dems is that they — and most of the country — know he’s the former. The Dems also know that he is the ranking American soldier in Iraq, and whether or not they support the war, they’ve all been proclaiming support for the troops despite how hollow that support may ring.

Petraeus’s truth is a serious problem for the Dems, and one that was foretold by one of their own, Congressman Jim Clyburn, a few months ago.

When asked what the Democrats would do if Petraeus returned in September with good news about real progress in Iraq, Clyburn — who I’m ashamed to admit hails from my own state of South Carolina — said, “Well, that would be a real grave problem for us, no question about it.” Why? Because politics and power are far more important to the Dems than an American victory in Iraq.

They know it. They dare not for political reasons admit it: just like they dare not admit their contempt for Petraeus because he is the starched, polished, and bemedaled symbol of what they all along have claimed to support: which is “the troops” in Iraq.

As Congressman Roy Blunt said:

It’s not every day that sees a four-star general, a Princeton Ph.D., a recipient of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, and the chief author of the Army’s definitive counterinsurgency manual testify before Congress. But in Gen. Petraeus, my colleagues were presented with every bit of that assembled expertise in the form of a single man.

Again, this is part of the problem for the Democrats, because as they well-know, Petraeus is simply too distinguished, too educated, too decorated, too experienced, and too believable to the American people to suit the Dems.

Simply put, Petraeus entered the halls of Congress this week, a strong man armed with the truth. And it was not the truth they wanted to hear. Nor was it the truth some of their supporters, like MoveOn.org, wanted to hear. The MoveOn crowd knew the honorable and believable general was coming, so they preempted the truth with their $65,000 smear (The Times cut them a very big break on a $181,000 ad), and it backfired on all of them.

Sure, the Dems say they support the troops, but only because they see the rank-and-file troops as being too young, dumb, and inexperienced to know what’s best for them. The Dems will publicly proclaim that the troops have performed magnificently, yet they say their efforts have failed.

Sen. Joe Biden loves to publicly refer to soldiers as “kids.” And they — the big congressmen and senators on Capitol Hill — are best suited to make wartime strategic and tactical decisions for those “kids.”

In other words, the Dems want to keep the troops in their places. The Dems want to appear to the rest of America that they have the troops best interests at heart. The Dems want the troops’ votes, and they are stymied by the fact that in an unpopular war, the military enlistment and reenlistment rates continue to meet or exceed goal, and the troops — by and large — don’t vote for Democrats.

So the Left in this country actually has two problems when it comes to Iraq: First, we’re making solid gains in a very tough counterinsurgency. Petraeus and Crocker have reported the situation as they know it to be, and as Clyburn says, that’s “a real grave problem” for the Dems.

Second, the Left simply doesn’t understand the modern American military. These aren’t “kids.” These are professionals. And serving among these professionals are literally thousands of potential Petraeuses. Of course, they won’t all wear stars, because the competition for such lofty rank is so keen, their peers and competitors so sharp. But what the Left doesn’t understand — and what was so obvious to me in Iraq, and now watching the hearings here this week — is that the troops are reflected in Petraeus, and Petraeus can be seen in them.

A former U.S. Marine infantry leader, W. Thomas Smith Jr. writes about military issues and has covered war in the Balkans, on the West Bank, and in Iraq. Smith is the author of six books, and his articles appear in a variety of publications. He blogs at The Tank.

A former U.S. Marine infantry leader, W. Thomas Smith Jr. writes about military issues. He has covered war in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq, and in Lebanon. ...

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