Max Boot, who has taken the lead in defending Gen. Petraeus against the meaning of the general's own Senate testimony, has responded to a lengthy post I wrote parsing this testimony and related material without addressing any argument I actually made. Boot prefers to address one that he invented: namely, that I claim that Petraeus learned, or, rather, "imbibed" his Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes from Stephen Walt.
This may seem like a minor point to argue, but Boot has misled readers. My arguments turn on Petraeus' own words, period -- words the general has not repudiated. Leaving my arguments unchallenged, Boot has resorted to fantasy.
Or, as he put it:
Diana West added a truly inventive spin, by suggesting that Petraeus was a protégé of Stephen Walt, who was his faculty adviser many years ago at Princeton before the good professor won renown as a leading basher of the “Israel Lobby” and the state of Israel itself. It was from Walt, Ms. West claims, that Petraeus imbibed his “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes.”
I emailed Boot asking him to reread my post with care 1) to see that I claimed no such thing and 2) to write a correction to that effect. While refusing to issue a correction, Boot has nonetheless quoted sufficiently from my work to prove my point. Here is what he has quoted from my post:
It is up to Petraeus to refute the Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes now far and widely attributed to him by media, now taking his words, written and spoken and reported on at face value, if they are truly incorrect. Personally, I'm not holding my breath. The fact is, assuaging "Arab anger" is, when you think of it, is the very heart of "hearts and minds" current counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) -- and Petraeus wrote the book.
He also wrote a Ph. D. thesis at Princeton in 1987 called “The American military and the Lessons of Vietnam: A Study of Military Influence and the Use of Force in the Post-Vietnam Era” (available here).
One of his two faculty advisors, it is interesting to note in light of this recent debate was ... Stephen Walt -- of Walt and Mearshimer infamy.
Boot cuts it off there, having failed to produce any claim that Petraeus "imbibed" anything from anyone. And who knows? Maybe Walt "imbibed" from Petraeus. Maybe they "imbibed" their attitudes independently. The long-ago Walt-Petraeus academic relationship, however, is stunning information of sudden notability as Petraeus, of heroic stature among the traditionally pro-Israel neocons, articulates a political perspective on the Middle East with demonstrable similarities to that of Walt, Mearshimer and others in the Arabist camp. Indeed, one point Boot neglects to mention, is that Walt himself, in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, saw fit to beef up his argument calling for a Palestinian state with a quotation from the Petraeus testimony. Boot further shortchanged his readers by depriving readers of Petraeus's gratitude to Walt. From my original post:
One of his two faculty advisors, it is interesting to note in light of this recent debate was ... Stephen Walt -- of Walt and Mearshimer infamy (hat tip Andrew Bostom). In acknowledgements, Petraeus writes:
"Professor Stephen Walt also deserves my gratitude. As my second faculty adviser – replacing Professor Barry Posen during the writing of my dissertation – Professor Walt offered numerous sound suggestions and comments. Like Professor Ullman, he displayed tremendous competence not only as an academic, but as a teacher as well."
The post ends on a bitterly ironic news item:
Petraeus is delivering the 2010 Irving Kristol Lecture at the American Enterprise Association this spring. Maybe he'll take the opportunity of his lecture to explain what he learned.
Boot continues, as if somehow realizing he hasn't quite brought his argument home:
In another blog item, she wrote, “It sounded as if Gen. Petraeus were chanelling Walt (if not Mearshimer) in his Senate testimony when he invoked the Arabist narrative regarding the ‘conflict’ between Israelis and Palestinians.”
More non-evidence. He writes:
I leave it to readers to decide whether my supposition — that West was blaming Stephen Walt for Petraeus’s supposed views — is unwarranted.
That's one word for it.
Here, one more time, is the Petraeus Senate testimony in question -- still unrepudiated, and nothing "supposed" about it:
The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests 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 Hizballah and Hamas.
Back to Boot:
For my part, I await West’s correction and apology for the numerous calumnies she has lodged against the most distinguished American military commander since Eisenhower.
Her accusations that Petraeus holds “Arabist, anti-Israel attitudes” are without foundation —
Is it dense?
but hardly without precedent in her overheated writing. In the past, she has asked of this soldier who, more than anyone else, is responsible for defeating Islamist extremists in Iraq: “Is Petraeus an Islamic Tool?”
Given that Petraeus 1) supports the closure of Guantanamo Bay on what Andrew McCarthy calls "vapid" grounds and 2) blames the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the existence of Hezbollah, it's a good question. In fact, I must thank Max Boot for reminding me of this Petraeus quotation from last summer as reported by the Lebanese Daily Star via Pajamas Media: “Hezbollah’s justifications for existence will become void,” Petraeus said, “if the Palestinian cause is resolved.” Early echoes of the Senate testimony! Back to Boot, who not suprisingly, doesn't like my only slightly satirical stabs:
In Part II of this post, she wrote in what is presumably her idea of jest:
Here's a plan Gen.Petraeus should be able to get behind: A new battle strategy, maybe a Kilcullen special, for him to join forces with Iran to once and for all nuke Israel and its genocidal apartment houses out of existence. That, according to his own lights, is sure to keep American troops safe in Iraq and Afghanistan.
She made equally wild and specious accusations against General Stanley McChrystal, another of our most respected commanders who, as head of the Joint Special Operations Command, sent too many jihadists to count to meet their 72 virgins. (Wonder how many jihadists Diana West has eliminated by comparison?)
That's the low level of debate these day, folks. But is he kidding, invoking notches on the gun of the man who has hamstrung and endangered our forces with rules of engagement designed to elevate "population protection" over US "force protection" to win not a war but a popularity contest against the Taliban with "the Afghan people"?
She writes, again with zero — sorry, “ZERO” — evidence, that McChrystal is “zealot and “a high priest of the politically correct orthodoxy,” that his views on counterinsurgency are “despicable,” and that he should be fired for “throwing away [his] men’s lives in a misguided infidel effort to win the ‘trust’ of a primitive Islamic people.”
Yup. And I'd write it again. McChrystal is indeed a zealot, a high priest of the multicultural orthdoxy that, as a point of ideological purity, refuses to engage in a politically incorrect analyis of Islam, and, indeed, treats the study of jihad as an unthinkable taboo. And yes, he should be fired for extending and intensifying the excessively strict rules of engagement that have led to Ganjgal and other incidents. But one more correction, Max: There's copious, documented evidence of the politically correct orthodoxy and reasons McChrystal should be fired right here. And here's what's "despicable":
In his famous, leaked Afghanistan assessment, McChrystal wrote: "Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us -- physically and psychologically -- from the people we seek to protect."
As I wrote last September (and it's still true), McChrystal himself is "pre-occupied" with what he calls "population protection" in a manner that "distances" him -- psychologically and emotionally -- from the men and women under his command.
That a general could write so disparagingly of the means to preserve his soldiers at least to fight another day is despicable. But this is what zealots do. They serve theories, not men; they see visions, not reality. And that theory, that vision is akin to the familiar Marxist notion, likely imbibed during PC school days, that denies that identity, religion and culture matter. In the resulting tunnel vision, the so-called hearts-and-minds strategy looks like a winner.
This is the underlying basis of the counterinsurgency warfare now in vogue. "Hearts and minds" is not only the flawed rationale behind "nation-building," it also inspires the restrictive rules of engagement finally causing unease at home. This strategy -- now framed as "the battle for the support of the (Afghan) people" -- must be junked as a fraud if our military is ever to be used effectively and appropriately.
Hasn't happened. Won't happen. There's too much at stake. At this point, supporters of counterinsurgency, supporters of "the surge" in Iraq and Afghanistan, supporters of Petraeus et al, diehards all, have far too much at stake -- careers, reputation, and a deep and corroding guilt over the waste of wars that have won us absolutely nothing, and certainly neither hearts nor minds.
Which may explain Boot's final descent into ad hominem attack.
Those are truly disgusting charges to lodge against such distinguished soldiers who have repeatedly risked their lives to defend our nation. They recall, in fact, the widely condemned Moveon.org advertisement that called Petraeus “General Betray-Us.” Her writing suggests that some of the more extreme precincts of the Right are copying the worst excesses of the Left.
All name-calling, no arguments. Or, as Robert Conquest might say, dogmatists impenetrable by fact.