THE BLOG
08/20/2007 10:54 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Talkin' Trash on Iraq

Nearly all of the self-styled experts among the talking heads who focus on Middle Eastern policy are, in fact, unable to speak or read Arabic, Farsi, or any other regional language. Their passion for the Middle East is frequently rooted in their commitment to Israel rather than from any profound understanding of the Muslim world, but they are rarely challenged on their knowledge and viewpoints. This failure to address the roots of their expertise on the part of the media is particularly surprising as the United States is currently entering the fifth year of the Iraqi quagmire, a war that need not have taken place and which was enabled by many of those who are still regarded as "experts."

There have been two recent articles by neoconservatives who have visited Iraq as guests of the United States Army and have returned with glowing reports suggesting that the "surge" is working and that the war there can be won. The first op-ed article, by Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of Brookings, appeared in The New York Times on July 30th and has been much commented on both by supporters and critics. Their account, based on an apparently standard eight-day visit enclosed in a security cocoon, suggests that the surge is working and only needs more time and the proper political developments to succeed. More important, the authors portray themselves as "war critics" who have now seen the light to bolster the credibility and integrity of their argument.

The O'Hanlon-Pollack spin has been ably deconstructed by Glenn Greenwald, who notes inter alia that two have seriously misrepresented themselves. It is extremely well documented that they have, in fact, consistently been cheerleaders for the Iraq war and occupation. Greenwald also notes that they have been wrong about virtually every analysis and prediction they have made since well before the actual fighting began. In 2002 Pollack wrote an influential book The Threatening Storm, arguing essentially that the United States should overthrow Saddam Hussein because it had the power to do so. British journalist Robert Fisk has referred to the Pollack book as both "insipid" and "breathtakingly immoral." More recently, Pollack, not intimidated by his lack of Farsi and the fact that he has never even visited Iran, has authored The Persian Puzzle.

Greenwald might have added that the O'Hanlon-Pollack visit to Iraq was heavy on official briefings and light on actual contact with Iraqis, suggesting that their analysis of the situation might be skewed. Pollack also has considerable institutional baggage in terms of who pays his salary. He is the Director of Research for the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, which is funded by Israeli right-wing billionaire Haim Saban. Saban, who made his fortune in Hollywood, describes himself as a "...one issue guy and that issue is Israel" while even The New York Times describes him as a "tireless cheerleader for Israel." He is a major funder of the Israeli lobby AIPAC, supports the Iraq war, and is reported to be eager to start a new war with Iran.

The second article, which appeared in Time magazine in the August 9th issue, was by the ubiquitous William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard. It has been less commented on, apparently because outside of the world of punditry no one takes the ideologically driven Kristol very seriously anymore. Kristol's most recent foray into journalistic excess describes his own eight day Defense Department sponsored trip to Iraq accompanied by "military experts" Kim and Fred Kagan.

Kristol indulges himself with the standard neocon chicanery, in which he effusively praises "the troops" in an attempt to divert the argument away from the bankruptcy of the policy that brought them to Mesopotamia in the first place. Kristol, together with the Kagans, has never served his country in uniform, but he is nevertheless a great observer of soldiers, a latter day Rudyard Kipling lacking only the ability to rhyme words and write coherently. In his column, he recounts how he accompanied American soldiers on the street in Baghdad, noting how they "deftly manage the political-economic interactions with local shopkeepers and citizens." As Kristol and the Kagans speak no Arabic and they were surrounded by heavily armed escorts who were there to protect them, it is not exactly clear how they were able to discern the nuances of the American-Iraqi relationship.

Like O'Hanlon and Pollack, Kristol's odd essay also emphasized that the "surge" is working, but then went on to predict that the American warrior statesmen who are being tempered in the cauldron of Baghdad will form the core of a new generation of leaders after they return to the United States, though he provides no evidence to suggest why that should be so. Presumably they will have to give up their commissions to assume political power, unless Kristol is envisioning some kind of junta or Alexander Haig redux. Curiously, if his prediction were to prove accurate, it would also mean an end to the Bill Kristols and Kagans of this world since they can in no sense be considered warriors, except perhaps metaphorically. Or perhaps they will engage in the standard neocon transformation act and will be able to attach themselves parasitically to new hosts among the warrior elite just as they have swung from being Trotskyites to Democrats to Republicans and now again are veering towards Democrats.

Less noticed has been another report on the O'Hanlon-Pollack trip written by a genuine military expert Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Cordesman accompanied the two intrepid Brookings scholars on their voyage of discovery but his conclusions sound a lot less like victory than theirs. He reported in a somewhat different, more cautious, tone, stating that while there might be a "...tenuous case for strategic patience in Iraq," the U.S. has only "...uncertain, high-risk options in Iraq," where it "...cannot dictate Iraq's future, only influence it."

Lost in all the discussion of what might or might not be possible is the human disaster that the United States invasion and occupation have unleashed. That the almost unbelievable pain and suffering inflicted on the Iraqi people by an ill-conceived and pointless military intervention can somehow be made right by continued application of still more force, is a mind-boggling exercise in perversity. If there were any justice in the world, which there is not, the Kristols, Kagans, O'Hanlons, and Pollacks would all be currently unemployed and discredited. Instead, they continue to be much in evidence as "experts" every time one turns on the television or opens a newspaper or magazine.