Is David Petraeus a 'Lying Liar' About the Drawdown?

"Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" was former non-Senator Al
Franken's 2003 examination of the lies and distortions of right-wing
pundits and politicians.

Such a book, if it were written today, should certainly include a fair
and balanced look at some of the lying liars still running our foreign
policy: in particular, at Mr. David Petraeus. (Mr. Franken might not
be the best candidate for writing such a book today, given that he
voted recently against Senator Feingold's amendment requiring the
President to establish a timetable for military withdrawal from
Afghanistan, even as Democratic leaders like Senator Durbin supported
Feingold's amendment.)

Harsh words about Mr. Petraeus? Yes. Justified? Absolutely.

Consider: Mr. Petraeus has been leading a campaign of "domestic
information operations" to browbeat Congress and the American people
to accept limiting the size of, and possibly even a delay of, the
drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan in July 2011that President
Obama promised when he acceded to the military's demand for a "surge"
of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan last fall.

In a recent interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," Petraeus
that he might recommend against any withdrawal of US forces
next summer, causing the White House to reaffirm its commitment to the
July 2012 deadline in response, saying, "The
date is not negotiable

"Certainly, yes," [Petraeus] said when the show's host,
David Gregory, asked him if, depending on how the war was proceeding,
he might tell the president that a drawdown should be

These words make David Petraeus a 'lying liar.' Because asking for
more time if the "surge" didn't work within 18 months is
exactly what David Petraeus promised
not to do
when the "surge" was decided.

As Newsweekreported,
in an excerpt from Jonathan Alter's book "The Promise" (all emphasis

Obama was moving ... toward conclusions and eventually
presidential orders. This would not be a five- to seven-year
nation-building commitment, much less an open-ended one. The time
frame the military was offering for both getting in and getting out
must shrink dramatically, he said. There would be no nationwide
counterinsurgency strategy; the Pentagon was to present a "targeted"
plan for protecting population centers, training Afghan security
forces, and beginning a real - not a token - withdrawal within
18 months of the escalation

On Sunday, Nov. 29, having made his decision, the president decided to
hold a final Oval Office meeting with the Pentagon brass and
commanders in the region who would carry out his orders. He wanted to
put it directly to the military: Gates, Mullen, Cartwright, Petraeus,
and national-security adviser Jim Jones, without any of the others.
Obama asked Biden to come back early from Thanksgiving in Nantucket to
join him for the meeting.

As they walked along the portico toward the Oval Office, Biden asked
if the new policy of beginning a significant
withdrawal in 2011
was a direct presidential order that
couldn't be countermanded by the military. Obama said


Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, "David, tell
me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18

"Sir, I'm confident we can train and hand over to the ANA
[Afghan National Army] in that time frame," Petraeus replied.

"Good. No problem," the president said. "If you can't do the
things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest
we stay, right?"

"Yes, sir, in agreement," Petraeus said.

"Yes, sir," Mullen said.


The president then encapsulated the new policy: in
quickly, out quickly, focus on Al Qaeda, and build the Afghan Army.
"I'm not asking you to change what you believe, but if you don't agree
with me that we can execute this, say so now," he said. No one said

"Tell me now," Obama repeated.

"Fully support, sir," Mullen said.

"Ditto," Petraeus said.


If conditions didn't stabilize enough to begin an orderly
withdrawal of U.S. forces (or if they deteriorated further), that
would undermine the Pentagon's belief in the effectiveness of more
troops. The commanders couldn't say they didn't have enough
time to make the escalation work because they had specifically said,
under explicit questioning, that they did.

As far as I am aware, Mr. Petraeus has never disputed Mr. Alter's
account of these events.

And as far as I am aware, no reporter has asked Mr. Petraeus during
his current media tour about the contradiction between his current
advocacy for delaying the withdrawal and his "Yes, sir" under explicit
questioning that he would not ask for more time. I look forward to
being corrected on this point.

No doubt, some will respond cynically to the blatant contradiction
between what Petraeus is saying now and what he said in November. "So,
Petraeus is a lying politician - what else is news?" But the point is
that while Petraeus acts like a lying politician, he
is treated by the mainstream media as if he were
beyond politics, above criticism, merely a professional military man
giving his neutral, unbiased, impartial professional military advice.
That lack of scrutiny makes Petraeus a more dangerous liar than a

A friend claims he has a reliable method for getting kicked off a
jury. When the judge asks him if he is more likely to believe the
testimony of a policeman over that of any other citizen, my friend
will say that he is less likely to believe the
testimony of a policeman, explaining that policemen, compared to other
citizens, are almost never prosecuted for perjury, so they have less
disincentive to lie under oath, and a person evaluating a policeman's
testimony compared to other testimony should take that into account.

The same considerations apply to Mr. Petraeus' treatment by the media.
Because they subject him to less scrutiny than they do to ordinary
politicians, even when he is making political statements - and the
decision to withdraw or not to withdraw troops is fundamentally a
political decision, not a military one - Petraeus has less
disincentive to lie than other politicians.

This week, the number of U.S. deaths in the Afghanistan war since
President Obama took office surpassed the number of deaths under
President Bush (download a web counter here; spread
the news here.)

This should be the occasion for a fundamental rethink of what we are
doing in Afghanistan, including a debate on establishing a timetable
to complete a military withdrawal. The last thing we need to be doing
now is handing over decision-making to an unelected leader named David
Petraeus. If his clear statement in November that he would not ask for
more time cannot now be trusted, why should we now trust anything else
he has to say about questions that are fundamentally political,
especially the drawdown?

Meanwhile, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting is appealing to
NBC to have a guest on "Meet the Press" to talk about the war
besides Mr. Petraeus and his disciples. You can support FAIR's effort

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