THE BLOG
08/01/2007 03:59 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

War Correspondent Responds to the Suddenly Famous O'Hanlon/Pollack

I only saw some of Vice President's appearance on Larry King last night.

Did you see the Bill Moyers program on the lead-up to the Iraq war in which he traced how the administration leaked to the New York Times what turned out to be a debatable report about Saddam's WMD, and then the next day the Vice President went on Meet the Press and quoted the Times, as if they were a second, confirming source? (Pretty clever, good to remember if you want to start a war.) And then, of course, Cheney stressed that the Times was a liberal paper, more or less saying, see, even liberals see that we're right.

Well there he was last night on Larry King, singing a similar tune:

Cheney: ...don't take it from me [about progress in Iraq] -- look at the piece that appeared yesterday in the New York Times, not exactly a friendly publication -- but a piece by Mr. O'Hanlon and Mr. Pollack on the situation in Iraq.

They're just back from visiting over there. They both have been strong critics of the war. Both worked in the prior administration, but now saying that they think there's a possibility, indeed, that we could be successful. So, we will know a lot more in September, when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker come back and report sort of to the Congress and the president on the situation in Iraq and whether or not we're making progress.

King: You don't know what to expect, though, do you? Or do you?

Cheney: Well, I think it's going to show that we will have made significant progress. The reports I'm hearing from people whose views I respect indicate that indeed the Petraeus plan is in fact producing results.

Yes, he's hearing from "people whose views I respect." That must be quite a close-knit club. Like asking gay people over 50 if they like Judy Garland. (I like her. Sorry to involve her in the Iraq war.)

And oh dear, sounds familiar but he's seeing "significant progress." In 2007, after we've been there since 2003. And they've been right and truthful so many times before.

By the way, I'm not saying that Cheney is behind the O'Hanlon/Pollack op ed piece in the same way they were behind leaking pro-war material to the Times. Just that he's making the same claim - see, some liberals see our point now.

But their article has come at a critical time. The administration is in full Salesmanship Mode, in preparation for the September report from General Petraeus. In most speeches Bush has been saying "al Qaeda" after every third sentence, and proclaiming the lie/distortion that "Al Qaeda in Iraq" is the same group that attacked us on 9/11.

And Petraeus has been sold as a straight-shooter, who will tell the American people in September if the surge is working.

Though now they're saying September is way too early to know - apparently when hell freezes over would be a better time.

Plus we've learned General Petraeus has been working on a plan to keep American troops in Iraq through 2009. Why don't we just keep soldiers in Iraq forever? Is forever long enough for you, President Bush?

But I'm not in Iraq. And I read the O'Hanlon/Pollack piece with the snappy title "A War We Might Just Win" with a sense of incredulity, but I also did just what Vice President Cheney wanted people to do - I went, wow this is in the Times. And is it possible things are better in Iraq?

Anyway, I watched the tail end of the Cheney interview last night, and it was followed by Anderson Cooper who showed the clip of Cheney I quoted above, and then went on to interview Australian war correspondent Michael Ware.

Now O'Hanlon and Pollack visited Iraq for 8 days before giving their report. Ware is famous for having been in Iraq continuously since the war began.

I found it intriguing and informative to listen to Ware's assessment of things, right after hearing Cheney admiringly quote O'Hanlon and Pollack.

This is the link to the entire Ware interview (you have to scroll down half-way), but here are some quotes from it to give you the gist:

Cooper: [We have] Michael Ware, who has been there in Baghdad and all across Iraq almost nonstop since the fighting began. Right now, he's embedded with American forces in Diyala Province, coming to us through a nightscope camera. Because of the danger there, they're not allowed to turn on any camera lights. Michael, you just heard the vice president saying he expects General Petraeus to report significant progress when he gives his assessment come September. What do you think of the vice president's evaluation?

Ware: Well, Anderson, there is progress. And that's indisputable. Sectarian violence is down in certain pockets. There are areas of great instability in this country. They're at last finding some stability.

The point, though, is, at what price? What we're seeing is -- is, to a degree, some sleight of hand. What America needs to come clean about is that it's achieving these successes by cutting deals primarily with its enemies. We have all heard the administration praise the work of the tribal sheiks in turning against al Qaeda. Well, this is just a euphemism for the Sunni insurgency. That's who has turned against al Qaeda.

And why? Because they offered America terms in 2003 to do this. And it's taken America four years of war to come round to the Sunnis' terms. And, principally, that means cutting the Iraqi government out of the loop. By achieving these successes, America is building Sunni militias. Yes, they're targeting al Qaeda, but these are also anti- government forces opposed to the very government that America created. [emphasis mine]

So, to say the obvious, we're building up Sunni forces just as we once built up Saddam (who was Sunni) so he could oppose Iran. But once we leave, how will our having built up Sunni militias IN THE LONG RUN help Iraq to be at peace, and help the Sunnis and Shiites stop wanting to kill each other? Doesn't sound promising to me...

A bit later in the Ware interview:

COOPER: Well, the vice president also referred to this New York Times op-ed written by -- by Ken Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon, who returned from Iraq. They were applauding the military progress and the Iraqi security forces' ability to hold areas and keep insurgents out. How much have the Iraqi troops themselves actually improved?

WARE: Well, there has been improvement in the Iraqi troops. They are standing up, to a greater degree, in certain pockets.

But, honestly, Anderson, it is a myth to believe that the Iraqi forces have been rid of their sectarian or militia ties. No matter how much any commander wants to tell you, the minute the American forces turn their backs, these guys revert to form, be that Sunni or Shia lines, Kurdish ethnic lines, or be it militia lines.

So, there is still no sense of unity. And, without America to act as the big baby-sitter, this thing is not going to last. So all these successes that O'Hanlon and Pollack point to exist. They're real. But the report is very one-dimensional. It doesn't look at what's being done to achieve this and what long-term sustainability there is. ... The question is, is America prepared to pay this price? [emphasis mine]

I also admit it: I can't believe a single thing Bush or Cheney says, can you?

May I quote Peggy Noonan on Bush's trustability?:

...what it is about [Bush], real or perceived, that makes people who used to smile at the mention of his name now grit their teeth...

...I received an email before the news conference from as rock-ribbed a Republican as you can find, a Georgia woman (middle-aged, entrepreneurial) who'd previously supported him. She said she'd had it. "I don't believe a word that comes out of his mouth." I was startled by her vehemence only because she is, as I said, rock-ribbed. Her email reminded me of another, one a friend received some months ago: "I took the W off my car today," it said on the subject line.

Her article goes on to be an interesting analysis of how Bush's apparent cheerfulness is off-putting to people, given the mess he's in; then she ends with:

Americans can't fire the president right now, so they're waiting it out. They can tell a pollster how they feel, and they do, and they can tell friends, and they do that too. They also watch the news conference, and grit their teeth a bit.

Ms. Noonan is a long-time conservative (and speechwriter for the first President Bush, if you can recall him), and I'm not a conservative. Still I find a bit of sanity/peace reading conservatives who can see that, really, something bad and not connected to traditional conservatism has happened during these disturbing Bush years.

And I don't believe a word that comes out of his mouth either.

And I'm not feeling too confident that waiting for General Petraeus is really going to bring us too much straight talking. Do you think?

Well, I just wanted to add Michael Ware's perspective to the O'Hanlon/Pollack op-ed discussion.