Rachel Maddow Gives Obama's Surge the Benefit of a Doubt

Left-wing pundit Rachel Maddow wants everyone to remember -- President Barack Obama did not start the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Got that? This is so important, Maddow felt compelled to repeat it during a recent broadcast.

While doing so, Maddow engaged in unsubtle revisionism on what led to the wars. 

Here's what Maddow said on her MSNBC cable show Monday night (the remarks that follow comprise the first part of the embedded video, with two other segments in the video also described in this post) --

This week is the six-year anniversary of when we invaded Iraq. We are already well into year eight in Afghanistan and this week we are awaiting word from the new president, who did not start those wars, about what his plan is for Afghanistan. That said, unnamed Pentagon officials keep telling the press that Obama's about to announce his Afghanistan plan and it hasn't happened yet, so don't get too excited, but we think it might. The stars seem to be aligning, with frequent reports now that the president is on board with the counterinsurgents. The counterinsurgents is not only the best unused band name in America, it's also worth understanding if you want to know if we're still going to be in the wars that George W. Bush started when President Obama leaves office.

See what I mean? Once again, it's all Bush's fault. This can't be emphasized enough, especially if one if works public relations for the Democratic Party over at MSNBC.

As for Bush having "started" the wars, I'll concede the point on Iraq. Agreed, Iraq was invaded by a US-led coalition in March 2003 while Bush was president. It's also true the invasion was preceded by more than a decade of Iraqi defiance of UN resolutions to disarm in good faith as a condition of the cease fire -- not peace treaty -- that ended the Persian Gulf War.

But to claim Bush started the war in Afghanistan is like saying Franklin Roosevelt began the war in the Pacific (somewhere the ghost of Tokyo Rose smiles in assent). A more honest observer would point out that Roosevelt and Bush responded with force against enemies who attacked America first. Surely such a distinction is not lost on Maddow.

It's not just that she can't get through a broadcast without a disingenuous dig at Bush. Maddow is also unwilling to subject Obama to anything resembling her often harsh criticism of his predecessor.

As an example, here's Maddow tepid critique on March 13 of Obama's plans for additional US troops in Afghanistan clearly modeled on Bush's surge in Iraq (shown in second part of embedded video) -- 

I came to Boston today to meet with the faculty of the Belfer Center, the international security, academic center, think-tanky thing at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Meeting with the faculty there was national security dork heaven for me, it was very kind of them to host me for the day. And at one point when we were talking today about the wars, one of the professors said, I'm not sure what the question is to which the right answer is 17,000 more US troops to Afghanistan right now. Excellent point, right? Big brains at Harvard. But I've sort of been gnawing on this all day since and I do think there are some questions to which 17,000 more US troops to Afghanistan could be the right answer.

Questions like, how do we better ensure the safety of the 35,000 American troops who are already in Afghanistan? Or, how do we nudge our troops in Afghanistan away from having to rely on air strikes, which too often kill civilians, in favor of more troop-intensive but relatively more precise guy-with-gun missions? Here's another question to which 17,000 more US troops to Afghanistan could conceivably be the right answer. How does the new US president make it look like we are committed to some kind of positive outcome in Afghanistan? How does he make it look like Afghanistan is not Forgotistan anymore, even before he has announced or maybe even arrived at his plan for what he thinks the point of the war there now is. That is maybe a question to which 17,000 more US troops to Afghanistan could conceivably be the answer. Could be the right answer if by right you mean understandable, if not right as in a good idea.

Did you notice how the three reasons cited by Maddow -- protecting our troops already there, engaging the enemy more directly instead of falling back on firepower, and a commitment to the success of the mission -- also applied in the rationale for the surge in Iraq? Difference being, that was Bush's war -- hence, its inherent illegality -- and Afghanistan is now Obama's war. Let's give our commander in chief the benefit of a doubt during wartime, shall we?

One of Maddow's guests that night, veteran foreign policy observer Leslie Gelb, followed much the same path, claiming the US risks becoming mired in quagmire in Afghanistan within three years -- yet Gelb says he supports Obama's decision to send 17,000 more troops there. Can you imagine the reaction on the left had Bush, Cheney or McCain said the same thing before the surge?

And imagine how liberals would have responded if Rush Limbaugh or any other prominent conservative in the media did exactly what Maddow did on her March 12 show (as shown in third part of embedded video). Her remarks are as follows --

The phrase dirty bomb has been used a lot in this country in the last eight years. After 9/11 it became a national nightmare that the next attack might have a radioactive component. From public anxiety in the Cold War about Russia hitting us with a nuclear missile or dropping a nuclear bomb on us, we moved on to new public anxiety about some extremist, nihilist terrorist group exploding the very distant cousin of a nuclear weapon in this country, using a conventional explosive, something like dynamite, to disperse radioactive material. It's a dirty bomb. When you think dirty bomb, don't think mushroom cloud, think panic, think terror. It's an attack designed to kill, sure, but also to get into our national psyche and to terrify us.

One of the most high-profile terrorism arrests of the post-9/11 era was Jose Padilla, a US citizen picked up at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. He was charged loudly and repeatedly by Bush administration officials with having plotted to set off a dirty bomb in an American city. Now Mr. Padilla was never charged with any such thing. He went to jail ultimately on totally unrelated charges. But that did not stop Bush administration officials from touting the supposedly thwarted dirty bomb attack again and again and again and again, because of its power, even in the abstract, to terrify us.

And that brings us to the new American dirty bomb news that worryingly is not totally abstract. On Dec. 9 in the small town of Belfast, Maine, which is between Bangor and Portland, police responded to an emergency call. Thirty-one-year-old Amber Cummings had reportedly shot and killed her husband, James, after what she says were years of mental, physical and sexual abuse, allegations seemingly corroborated by tradesmen who had done work in the home and who had described James Cummings as abusive and his wife as cowering in his presence.

Upon entering the home, police reportedly found material linking Mr. Cummings to white supremacist groups, including an application he had filled out to join the National Socialist movement. And yes, that's national socialist as in Nazi. Mr. Cummings had told neighbors he was a Nazi, he had bragged about his admiration for Adolf Hitler, he had bragged about owning Nazi memorabilia, including Hitler's cutlery and place settings. What kind of a self-respecting Nazi collects place settings, dessert spoons? Anyway, Amber Cummings reportedly also told police that her husband was quote very upset when Barack Obama was elected president.

Now the reason this isn't just a dead jerk story, a domestic violence story, a local-extremist-gone-bad story, is because of what else was found in James Cummings's house. According to a leaked document from the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center, state authorities detected radiation emissions in four small jars in the house. They were labeled uranium metal as well as one jar labeled thorium. In addition, authorities found four one-gallon containers of 35-percent hydrogen peroxide. Just so you know, that's the formulation of that chemical that you need for peroxide-based explosives.

"Just so you know ..."? You and the other stragglers from the Symbionese Liberation Army. Coming up next, bigger bang for your dirty bomb buck!

What's worse, Maddow said this while a graphic was shown listing other ingredients needed for a dirty bomb, as described in that "leaked" document, an FBI field intelligence report. Gee, why would anyone in law enforcement not want to share its contents with the public, including those overly fond of pyrotechnics?

I realize that Maddow isn't a journalist and only plays one on television, but why would she do this? An explanation comes to mind. What better way to contrast the slim case against Padilla than by outlining the abundance of detail in this one?

Maddow likes to call herself a "national security liberal," an oxymoron if ever there was one. But someone actually fitting that description -- Harry Truman, for example, or Al Gore before he lost his mind after Florida -- would have held off from sharing such information with people inclined to use it. 

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts