Tuesday, August 14, 2007


While he went a little off the deep end towards the end, Robert A. Heinlein remains one of my favorite science fiction writers. He was a brilliant, talented writer, had a towering imagination, and despite his political opinions differing wildly from mine, I always respected the case he made for them.

One of the cases was in an omnibus of his: Expanded Universe. It was called "'Pravda' means 'Truth'", and it was all about a trip he and his wife made to (then) Communist Russia. It was somewhat comedic, somewhat sad, but the most memorable thing was how much effort the Russians made to ensure that the people in the group only visited those areas where they wanted them to go. There were a lot of visits to stadiums and big factories and whatnot, but very little to the places where real people actually lived. That way, people would return to their home countries and say that the Soviet Union was a little dull, a little gray, but nowhere near as bad as the stories said.

Nonetheless, Heinlein and his wife managed to speak to some of the "Proletariat", and it was their accounts of all the difficulties and horrors of life behind the Iron Curtain that hardened his opinion against the Soviet Union. Definitely a big failure on his handlers' part, right? It's this sort of reaction that all the stage-managing is supposed to prevent. The only reason that Heinlein and his wife were able to do it, though, was because they were skeptical, and took the time to question their handler's stagemanaging.

I was reminded of this story when reading Glenn Greenwald's interview with Michael O'Hanlon. As it turns out, things were almost as carefully controlled:

But the far greater deceit involves the trip itself and the way it was represented -- both by Pollack/O'Hanlon as well as the excited media figures who touted its significance and meaning. From beginning to end, this trip was planned, shaped and controlled by the U.S. military -- a fact inexcusably concealed in both the Op-Ed itself and virtually every interview the two of them gave. With very few exceptions, what they saw was choreographed by the U.S. military and carefully selected for them...The entire trip -- including where they went, what they saw, and with whom they spoke -- consisted almost entirely of them faithfully following what O'Hanlon described as "the itinerary the D.O.D. developed."
There's more, from the actual interview:

GG: The first line of your Op-Ed said:"viewed from Iraq where we just spent the last eight days interviewing American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel..."

How did you arrange the meetings with the Iraqi military and civilian personnel?

MO: Well, a number of those -- and most of those were arranged by the U.S. military. So I'll be transparent about that as well. These were to some extent contacts of Ken and Tony, but that was a lesser number of people. The predominant majority were people who we came into contact with through the itinerary the D.O.D. developed.
It goes on like this, but you get the idea. While O'Hanlon protests that he was mostly surveying the opinion of the US military, the fact remains that as "fact-finding missions" go, this is really no different than Heinlein's trip to Moscow. The U.S. military has been all about controlling perception of its conflicts since the embarrassment of Vietnam. "Embedding" is pretty notorious for this sort of thing, but let's be honest, it's everywhere else too. O'Hanlon saw exactly what the PR guys wanted him to see, and unlike the Heinleins, he clearly never bothered to check otherwise.

Pollack and O'Hanlon didn't even bother to take some time in the places they visited:

spent every night ensconced in the Green Zone in Baghdad. They did not spend a single night in any other city. As O'Hanlon admitted, they spent no more than "between 2-4 hours" in every place they visited outside Baghdad, and much of that was taken up meeting U.S. military commanders, not inspecting the proverbial "conditions on the ground."
So they saw very, very little, and got all their information from people who are paid to give them the best possible interpretation of the situation that won't get them laughed out of the room. Is any military commander going to risk his commission telling the truth to a pair of war boosters who clearly want to hear anything positive you want to say in the first place? Hardly. If you're talking with the type of people who will paint their two hours in Mosul as any sort of on-the-ground experience, you know he'll lap up the spin and ask for seconds!

So serve it up.

Me, I'm with Glenn:

A failure to disclose obviously critical facts that bear on the credibility of their "findings" and a willingness to ground their conclusions in patently one-sided and highly controlled data are far more serious sins than mere sloppiness. It is difficult to avoid reaching any conclusion other than that they willfully served as propaganda tools in order to bolster the perception of success for a war and a "Surge" strategy which they prominently supported and on which their professional reputations rest.
Therein lies the problem with that whole "foreign policy community" thing. Because of the old groupthink on going in, the vast majority of these people are in serious danger of losing credibility. Because it IS a community, they're working in concert to repair said credibility, and the Dems certainly aren't making it tough for them, but you can only go so far before other academics start snickering behind your back. They're hitting that point, and are desperately hoping for a miracle.

Unfortunately, I doubt they're getting one.

Oh, and Glenn is right about one other thing: as someone who's read the academic output of many of the leading Iraq boosters in the "Foreign Policy Community"? Glenn's right. The scholarship is terrible.

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