4 years ago
Several months ago Max Boot did something I would never do, and offered what he called rare praise for Andrew Sullivan. The subject of the article was mainly about Petraeus and his statements on Israel, but in the same article Max made some fairly strong observations or allegations about Diana West.
Andrew McCarthy writing for National Review Online penned a lengthy rebuttal to Max’s advocacy for Petraeus, while also analyzing the statements Petraeus had recently made concerning Israel. Max’s position has seemed profoundly weak to me, and McCarthy’s rebuttal appears determinative in light of the alternatives. Petraeus has said, for example:
… enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to advance our interest in the AOR (Area of Responsibility). Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile Al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizbollah and Hamas.
Now, one can even agree with the General that Israel and the Palestinian-Israel conflict is the fulcrum upon which everything tips in the Middle East. It doesn’t offend or bother me in the least; I just believe that this view is naive and meant primarily as a narrative for simpletons. Let’s be clear. Palestine or Israel could cease to exist tomorrow, and Iran would still pursue regional hegemony. There would still be hatred among some in the Middle East towards the U.S. (Wahhabists, etc.) regardless of who did or didn’t exist, or what other conflict was or wasn’t going on.
But whatever your view, McCarthy’s article was rather conclusive, that is, until Max Boot responded to McCarthy. He has been a determined advocate for Petraeus and his Israel policy, indeed. Joshua Foust explains why.
The recent revelation that Gen. Petraeus — now installed as the third commander of the flagging Afghan War in two years— collaborated with at least one pundit to get his story into the public isn’t exactly earth-shaking. But it might point to deeper problems with the commentary industry: namely, who’s driving the discussion?
An activist named Philip Weiss recently posted to his blog an e-mail chain that revealed Petraeus jovially chatting with Los Angeles Times columnist and Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Max Boot (Weiss makes a big deal out of Petraeus’ use of a smiley-face emoticon, though he’s probably overreacting about his supposed run for the presidency). At issue was a statement Petraeus gave the Senate Armed Services Committee that was critical of Israel. Wanting to combat the negative things pro-Israel pundits were saying about him, Petraeus reached out to Boot, who promptly repeated Petraeus’s statements, arguments, and talking points in his writing without directly disclosing their source.
None of this is terribly surprising, in the abstract: Petraeus has taken Boot on numerous DOD-funded trips around the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in return Boot has written repeatedly about how the wars are worth fighting, etc. It’s kind of a standard quid pro quo and makes sense from the general’s perspective. What’s odd, and this is where Weiss is onto something, is that Boot would go so far as to take cues directly from Petraeus, no longer writing as a pro-war partisan but as Petraeus’s unofficial spokesman.
It is an unfortunately common relationship in the think tank and commentary universe: writers find government figures they respect and wish to support, and those figures make supporting them as easy as possible.
Joshua goes on to discuss the ethics of this approach to advocacy. You can make up your own mind. As for regular readers of The Captain’s Journal, you would find it implausible to the point of simply impossible that I publish anyone’s talking points. I know that some Milblogs and commentators that. That group has not and will never include this one. If you must publish someone else’s talking points, it means that you don’t have any thoughts of your own.