Conservative supporters of the war in Iraq are spreading a bizarre meme — that MoveOn.org’s New York Times ad attacking Gen. David Petraeus as “General Betray Us” is the moral equivalent of McCarthyism. A few examples:
- “We may be about to witness a McCarthy-Army-Welch moment in the debate over Iraq. This time, the role of McCarthy is played by MoveOn.org, a liberal political group that launched its own attack on a respected US Army figure.” — Peter Feaver, former National Security Council staff member, writing in the Boston Globe.
- “MoveOn.org has thrown down an unprecedented attack on an American general’s character and honesty. It is a disgusting overreach, one that brings to mind Joe McCarthy’s attacks on the Army half a century ago.” — Hugh Hewitt, radio talk-show host and blogger, in the Los Angeles Times.
- Blogger Dean Barnett posts of a photo on Townhall.com of Sen. Joseph McCarthy being confronted by lawyer Joseph Welch at the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings, at which Welch memorably spoke up on behalf of an officer who’d been targeted by McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
- Sen. John McCain called the MoveOn ad “a McCarthyite attack,” according to this report in the Boston Globe by Lisa Wangsness.
OK, enough. You do see what the problem is, don’t you? McCarthy was smearing government officials by accusing them of being communists. MoveOn is smearing Petraeus by accusing him of being a known associate of (gasp!) George W. Bush.
And though it may have been wrongheaded for MoveOn to suggest that Petraeus would shade the truth on Bush’s behalf, it would be a stretch to call that offensive, let alone “McCarthyite.” Shading the truth about the war — its causes and its prosecution — is, after all, the modus operandi of the Bush White House. Pete Hegseth, writing in the Weekly Standard, accuses MoveOn of calling Petraeus a “traitor.” Hegseth needs to think through the implications of what he’s saying.
I have no love for MoveOn, and I fail to see how blowing its members’ money on a full-page ad in the Times advances its cause. There are not too many Times readers, I suspect, who continue to support (or who ever supported) the war.
I also think that Petraeus stands as one of the few honorable leaders in this terrible folly. His analysis — that U.S. and Iraqi troops are making progress on the ground — seems eminently reasonable. Too bad Iraq’s leadership continues to rip the country apart. (And yes, I understand that Petraeus wrote an overly optimistic op-ed piece for the Washington Post just before the last presidential election, an act that could be seen as political.)
This past Sunday’s “Meet the Press” was valuable, both for the downbeat assessment offered by retired Marine Gen. James Jones and former Washington police commissioner Charles Ramsey, members of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, and for Sen. Joseph Biden’s take on the MoveOn ad: “I don’t buy into that. This is an honorable guy. He’s telling the truth.”
Petraeus‘ truth, unfortunately, is just a small part of the picture. But unless President Bush is suddenly the new Nikita Krushchev, then MoveOn’s ad can’t possibly be compared the tactics of the late, unlamented Joseph McCarthy.