In the Arena


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Please excuse me in advance. I don’t want to clog up Swampland with personal tiffs….and this is absolutely the last time on this theme. But, oy! Pete Wehner is now berserking another big lie about me on the Commentary blog–that I blame the Petraeus staff for leading me astray on the surge. Actually, no.

What I was trying to point out was that Tom Ricks and I, and just about every other journalist who covered the Petraeus operation, soon learned that–unlike the Bush Administration–the general’s team of warrior-scholars were intellectually honest about the situation in Iraq, relentlessly so. There were fiercely divided opinions about the surge, as Wehner would learn if he ever got around to reading Ricks’s book, The Gamble. Starting in the autumn of 2006, well before the new tactics became real, I spent a lot of time thinking and arguing with a host of extremely generous military sources about whether it was too late to make counterinsurgency work in Baghdad, and watching them argue it out among themselves. It was one of the more exhilarating journalistic experiences of my life.

I can understand why Wehner would have trouble understanding that sort of intellectual exercise, since the Bush White House wasn’t known for its, shall we say, rigorous internal debates. I can also understand why Wehner would want to paint me as “enraged” or otherwise hysterical–a classic demagogue’s trick that doesn’t work so well now that Pete’s lost his Roveian podium.

I made my own choice about the surge. I’m happy that it has turned out better than any of us dreamed; I hope it leads to a placid Iraq, although the signs remain mixed. And I don’t blame the Petraeus staff for anything; I’ll always be grateful for the never-ending seminar they afforded me. How odd that Wehner would see this as a blame-game…or maybe not.

Update: Wehner has subsequently claimed that the above post represents a “moonwalk” away from my initial position that I decided to oppose the surge after conversations with members of the Petraeus team. Obviously, it isn’t…and, just as obviously, Pete is indulging in the big lie techniques that sustained his President Bush and Patron Rove during their noxious run. In this case, he’s using them to cover his own ignorance of how the Petraeus team operated and what the true state of the conversation among counterinsurgency was when Rumsfeld’s enemies–Petraeus et al–took over the policy in 2007.