(Fig. 1-A: The Very Serious Foreign Policy Community responds to criticism.)
Digby and Greg Sargent have been wondering aloud if the dirty Em Ess Em were going to hoist last Sunday’s Op Ed by real soldiers returning from Iraq on to their shoulders and parade it around town in the same way that they greeted that meretricious Think Tank Puff Piece by O’Hanlon and Pollack. The answer?
Of course not. The soldiers who wrote it are just enlisted men. They didn’t go to Cornell or even Columbia. They’re not members of the Serious Foreign Policy Elite. They’re probably not even from Good Families. What the hell do they know?
Those mealy-mouthed army punks can spend as much time as they want on the ground in Iraq, but that will never get them the kind of sterling foreign policy credentials that you get from sitting in an extravagantly air-conditioned DC office, diversifying your trust holdings, and sliming your political and ideological opponents. How could a bunch of low-ranking soldiers possibly know more about the Iraq War than a Serious Thinker like Mike O’Hanlon? It is to laugh.
The piece strongly contradicted last month’s optimistic analysis of the war by Brookings scholars Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack. Admittedly, their eight-day guided tour was handled by the Pentagon. But their years of study of the Middle East surely meant they wouldn’t be taken in by a Department of Defense dog-and-pony show, right? And could yesterday’s op-ed possibly come from a source more reputable than the Brookings Institution? What are the authors’ credentials, exactly?
Buddhika Jayamaha is an Army specialist. Wesley D. Smith is a sergeant. Jeremy Roebuck is a sergeant. Omar Mora is a sergeant. Edward Sandmeier is a sergeant. Yance T. Gray is a staff sergeant. Jeremy A. Murphy is a staff sergeant.
This op-ed was written by seven American soldiers who are serving in Iraq right now. They describe themselves as “responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home.” Sadly, one of the authors, Staff Sergeant Murphy, a Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head before the piece was published. (He is being flown to the U.S. and is expected to survive.)
But see, all the Grownups in the Media are too busy just now fawning all over the latest batch of war dilettantes who have returned from yet another DoD Dog and Pony Tour to announce that, why, actually, things are going GREAT in Iraq. Just as long as you cover yourself from toenails to temples in Kevlar and travel with a military escort the size of a small city.
Bottom line: No scholarly articles can replace real boots-on-the-ground knowledge. Participating in a heavily secured, carefully orchestrated sight-seeing visit to Iraq does not make you a military expert any more than a trip to Yankee stadium qualifies one to be a baseball broadcaster for ESPN. That should be obvious by now.
But the media continually treats troops as wallpaper footage to run in the background while the latest talking-head pseudo-expert pontificates. And the White House hasn’t learned the lesson, either, judging by the so-called “Petraeus report” coming out in September. The White House announced last week that this report won’t actually be written by Gen. Petraeus. Once again experienced military leaders will be overruled by air-conditioned bureaucrats and Beltway experts.
So let’s call the Petraeus Report what it is: Yet Another White House Plan. Of course, those don’t have a great track record, especially when it comes to assessing the situation on the ground. In the meantime, as more Americans and Iraqi civilians die waiting for someone in power to listen to the troops on the ground, someone should call the Brookings Institution – I can think of seven sharp 82nd Airborne soldiers who are getting back from Iraq soon, and they could use some comfy think tank fellowships.
Oh, right. That’ll happen. You can only get those jobs if you graduated with the Right People, Mr. Reickhoff.
What the hell do you think this country is, a democracy?