If you haven’t read Frank Rich’s column for 10/11, get yourself over to the Times website and please do so. Rich asks the simple question, why are we seeking advice from people who were so wrong about the Iraq war? His example is McCain, but there are many, many others who get endless media exposure-these days on Afghanistan.
Planting stories in the media is one of the time-tested ways that policy elites try to get their views across-and yes, this is common on both the left and the right. Presumably, it is the job of responsible journalists to help is sort this out, and not to act as passive stenographers. Enter Globe Washington bureau writer Bryan Bender. In a piece in Sunday’s Globe Bender extols (no other word for it) the husband/wife team of Frederick and Kimberly Kagan who are pushing hard for 40-45,000 more troops in Afghanistan. Kimberly is at Harvard, Fred at the American Enterprise Institute. We learn that Fred “helped develop the strategy credited with stabilizing Iraq” Iraq has been “stabilized?” Who knew? Iraq is mentioned four times in the piece. What is never said is that Fred Kagan pumped for war with Iraq even before 9/11. After that he was a signatory to a September 20, 2001, “open letter” which urged President Bush “that the war on terrorism include the removal of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein ‘even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the (9/11) attack.'” His profile at History Commons amply confirms his unbending hawkishness. As Matthew Yglesias once wrote, Fred Kagan’s policy recommendations on Iraq amount to “We’ve screwed up so much, so badly in Iraq that we can ill-afford to stop screwing up.”
Now how does such a story come to be written? Perhaps Bryan Bender was lolling at the water cooler one afternoon and thought, “Wouldn’t it be spiffy to do a piece on that cool husband-and-wife foreign policy team Fred and Kim Kagan?” Highly unlikely. Much more likely is that Bender gets a call from one of the communications folks at the American Enterprise Institute. Hey, Brian, I’ve got a nice angle on Fred and Kim Kagan for you. And, of course, General Petraeus will be available for a brief interview, and Fred’s dad, Donald. Dad Kagan goes for the love angle. While at Yale, he tells us, Fred and Kim “fell for each other very early.” So important to know.
Bender concludes “Many scholars and military officers interviewed by the Globe-including liberal experts such as Lawrence Korb … describe the Kagans as “intellecutally honest.”…. No specific person—much less Korb or another “liberal”— is credited with using the term “intellectually honest,” which is interesting. But more interesting is the question that, if the Kagans are such “clear-eyed analysts” (Bender’s words) why do they invariably come up with the same policy prescription: more troops, more bombs, more war?
An answer is provided by Andrew Bacevich on the Globe’s op-ed page the same day, who writes:
If the president assents to McChrystal’s request [for 45,000 more troops], he will void his promise of change at least so far as national security policy is concerned. The Afghanistan war will continue until the end of his first term and probably beyond. It will consume hundreds of billions of dollars. It will result in hundreds or perhaps thousands more American combat deaths – costs that the hawks are loath to acknowledge.
And that is really the agenda of Frederick and Kimberly Kagan.
But Bacevich is writing on the Globe’s opinion page. Bender is writing a news piece. And that’s why Bryan Bender’s piece on the Kagans is a travesty of journalism. It’s a propaganda piece masquerading as news. But the Globies are too worried that anonymous bloggers might say nasty things about them. So they can’t be concerned about being enablers to warmongers.