Liberal Lobby Lacks Context
August 23, 2007
Coalition distorts the words of two generals in an ad attacking Republicans.
A liberal coalition calling itself Americans Against Escalation in Iraq is running a TV ad that says the U.S. will be in Iraq for a decade to come and that the military draft will be reinstated. But the ad supports those conclusions by twisting the words of two senior generals.
Americans Against Escalation in Iraq is a coalition composed of several liberal groups, including MoveOn.org, the Service Employees International Union and the Center for American Progress, which is headed by former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta. The coalition announced Aug. 17 that it would run four ads as part of a broader effort to "turn up the heat on members of Congress who have opposed setting a timeline to bring a safe and responsible end to the war in Iraq." The ads use the same script to target four members of Congress. They are being run in Kentucky against Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and also in the House districts of Republican Reps. Phil English of Pennsylvania, Thelma Drake of Virginia and Fred Upton of Michigan.
What Petraeus Said
The ad says, "Bush's general says we have to stay [in Iraq] for 10 more" years. That's not exactly true. The ad refers to a July 9 interview that the U.S. commander in Iraq, David Petraeus, gave to British journalist John Simpson of the BBC. In that interview, Petraeus said he saw "progress on the ground" and spoke of a gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
Announcer:Fred Upton has supported Bush’s endless war in Iraq for four years. Now Bush’s general says we have to stay there for 10 more.
The ad would have been correct to paraphrase him as saying "some U.S. forces may have to stay there for 10 more" years. Here, in full, is the pertinent portion of the BBC interview:
BBC: How long, realistically, do American troops have to stay here to stabilize this country?Petraeus is scheduled to give an official report and possible testimony to Congress next month.
Doctoring a Headline
The ad also shows a doctored headline. It cites The Hill, a Washington, D.C., newspaper, as saying in an Aug. 10 headline, "Petraeus hints at decade-long Iraq presence." But the actual headline says, "Rep. Schakowsky: Petraeus hints at decade-long Iraq presence."
The problem here is that the words in the headline don't represent the conclusions of the newspaper; they are the words of congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat who is a co-founder of the House Out of Iraq Caucus, an ally of the coalition running the ads.
In this case Schakowsky was probably fair in her characterization of an off-the-record briefing by Petraeus, assuming that what he said in that briefing was similar to what he said in the BBC interview. But it is still wrong to attribute words to a newspaper when they actually came from a partisan source. Doing so gives the words greater credibility than they deserve, and it can deceive viewers.
The ad overstates the likelihood of bringing back the military draft, using an unjustified logical leap and a cherry-picked quote from the administration's war czar.
After raising the idea that U.S. troops will be in Iraq for a decade, the announcer says, "Where are we going to get the troops to stay that long? The draft." In fact, the Pentagon says nobody there is considering asking Congress to reinstate conscription.
The ad uses a clip from an Aug. 10 National Public Radio interview with the White House's Pentagon liaison, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, in which he says of the draft: “I think it makes sense to certainly consider it … this has always been an option on the table.” Not mentioned is that Lute also made clear that bringing back the draft would be "a major policy shift" and that he doesn't see a need for it.
Here is the pertinent part of the full interview with NPR's Michele Norris:
Three days after that interview the Pentagon released a statement saying "no one in the Pentagon is considering a return to a military draft," and pointing out that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is on record as being opposed to any return to conscription.
The ad also makes an unjustified logical connection between what Petraeus said in the BBC interview and a return to the draft. As noted earlier, Petraeus was actually speaking about a gradual reduction of U.S. troop levels in Iraq, specifically "to reduce the strain on the Army." If current levels have been reached without a draft, it simply does not follow logically that keeping fewer troops there over time would require one.
Who Supported What Now?
Finally, the four lawmakers targeted by the ads are said to have "supported Bush's war in Iraq for four years." That's true enough, but two congressman have since stopped backing the president's Iraq policy. Reps. Phil English and Fred Upton are Republican defectors who voted against the surge in a symbolic February vote.
The AAEI coalition announced that once school begins in the fall, it would follow up on the ad campaign with a digital "flyering" campaign on the popular social networking site facebook.com. Flyering is a means of messaging between members of the site. We advise students to do their homework before accepting this ad at face value.
– by Justin Bank
"All Things Considered," NPR. 10 Aug. 2007.
"US Iraq chief warns of long war." BBC. 9 July 2007.
Garamone, Jim. "All-Volunteer Force Meets Nation's Needs, Official Says." American Forces Press Service. 13 Aug. 2007.
Fitgerald, Patrick. "Rep. Schakowsky: Petraeus hints at decade-long Iraq presence." The Hill. 10 Aug. 2007.
Marre, Klaus, "Petraeus likely to testify on 9/11 anniversary." The Hill. 20 Aug. 2007.
U.S. House of Representatives, 110th Congress, 1st Session. House Vote No. 99.
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