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A dangerous direction for the military

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(Note: There were WAY too many links to include every bit of the back and forth on this issue. Between the original Greenwald post, your favorite search engine and news aggregator of choice you can track down more than you ever wanted to know.)

This week put a spotlight on what may be a troubling development in the military. On Sunday Glenn Greenwald received an email claiming to be from Colonel Steven A. Boylan, spokesman for General David Petraeus. The email was a response to an earlier piece about the politicization of the military, and took issue with a number of points. It was a long response to a long post and each made multiple points so it wasn't easy to keep track of all the charges and counter charges. Here's a brief look at one of them:

Greenwald:

Throughout this year, the U.S. military in Iraq has become staffed with pure Republican political hacks -- including long-time Bush/Cheney P.R. hack Steve Schmidt[.]

Response:

The claims about Steve Schmidt being out here on the staff in Iraq are just flat wrong...he just isn't here.

The source is Mike Allen's claim that Schmidt "also went over to Iraq to look at the communications capabilities, and he came back with a number of recommendations about even some of the logistical things to help people get those stories out." If I've got it right from both then the problem starts with Greenwald's unsupported claim that the military "has become staffed" with Schmidt and his allies. "Has" is present tense and "staffed" means on the staff, so it's correct to say "The claims about Steve Schmidt being out here on the staff in Iraq are just flat wrong...he just isn't here." In fact there's no indication Schmidt was on the staff at any point so it could have been an even more emphatic "Schmidt EVER being out here on the staff". It appears Greenwald got a little carried away and was caught red-handed - looks pretty bad, no?

Actually, no.

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What matters is the spirit of what he said. Ask yourself, what did he actually write, what is the mostly likely intent of it and how do you reconcile the difference? Then do the same with the response. The result should let you know how bad Greenwald and his correspondent deserve to look. So, what was his initial point? Was it to audit the military staff in Iraq? Suggest operatives were on the military payroll and therefore defrauding the government? Establish a formal connection between the political room in the White House and the communications office in Iraq? Since the post's headline describes a "growing link between the U.S. military and right-wing media" I think it's fairly obvious none of that is the case. The point is not who is on the staff but who is influencing the military. Whether Schmidt received a dime from the Pentagon or wore a uniform is irrelevant. The whole point is Schmidt's influence, not his location in the chain of command. Greenwald's writing is faithful to Allen's original assertion that Schmidt "went over...and he came back with a number of recommendations about even some of the logistical things to help people get those stories out." It should have been clarified in a correction but that wouldn't have changed his thesis one bit.

As for the response? "The claims about Steve Schmidt being out here on the staff in Iraq are just flat wrong...he just isn't here." Writing "he just isn't here" comes across as deceptive in light of the charge. The fact that he isn't here seems intended to lead the reader to believe he never was as well because it attempts to refute that "the U.S. military...is becoming rapidly politicized". That could only be (mostly - see below) true with respect to Schmidt if he had never been there, right? The same is true of "out here on the staff". It leaves open the possibility that he had been "out here" at some point, just not "on the staff". Greenwald's point is that Schmidt was part of a campaign to influence the military. He may have been physically present for some period giving advice and helping to devise strategy, just not as a member of the staff. He could well still be in frequent contact via email or phone helping to politicize the military. He doesn't need to be an ongoing physical presence or literally employed by them to have that effect. The whole response seems carefully crafted to deceive the reader.

Having to go through this legalistic exercise is irritating but unfortunately necessary. The challenge to Greenwald's post has to be answered like this in order to continue the discussion and look at what may be an ominous development in the military's understanding of itself. The swirl of accusations this week served only to obscure that central point (and indeed that may have been its purpose). Next week's post will look at it.

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www.pruningshears.us
Dan Fejes lives in northeast Ohio.

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