Occasionally, one can learn something watching TV news (other than just how bad TV news is), and just such an event occurred Thursday on the PBS Newshour.
The occasion was a discussion of President Bush's speech that day where he announced he was accepting the recommendation of Gen. David Petraeus to halt further troop withdrawals from Iraq after July, but he would cut the length of deployments for troops sent after Aug. 1 from 15 months to 12 months.
The Newshour set up a debate of "military experts" to discuss the announcement. On the one side was Bobby Muller, a paralyzed Vietnam-era Marine combat lieutenant and president of Veterans for America. On the other was retired Lieut. Col. Ralph Peters, a spy novelist, columnist for arch-conservative Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, and an adviser to John McCain (associations undisclosed by the Newshour), who fought the Vietnam War from a base in Germany.
After suffering his debilitating wound in Vietnam, Muller returned to the States, earned a law degree, and founded Vietnam Veterans of America, the only Congressionally chartered organization for that war's veterans. The group was at the forefront of efforts to achieve reconciliation with our former enemies in Vietnam and Cambodia. He also co-founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. Let's say he has some credibility.
Peters, on the other hand, has been a prominent cheerleader for the Iraq war, laying the blame for whatever shortcomings its execution may have had on the unexpected failure of the natives to cooperate in their own conquest. He not only favors re-making the map of the Middle East, he's actually drawn the lines, which basically calls for the dismemberment of Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Not that he thinks this will be easy:"There will be no peace," he has written. "The de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair amount of killing."
At least he's honest about it. This was written, by the way, while he was still on active duty in the Army, and published in an official Army War College publication. It included another choice quote:
"These noncompetitive cultures, such as that of Arabo-Persian Islam or the rejectionist segment of our own population, are enraged. . . . The laid-off blue-collar worker in America and the Taliban militiaman in Afghanistan are brothers in suffering."
Yes, equating American blue-collar workers with the Taliban. Put that one to John McCain. And people think Barack Obama's description of some small-town Americans as "bitter" make him an elitist. I'm loath to make Nazi comparisons, but this stuff is worthy of Mein Kampf. Credibility? Let's say Peters has none.
So the Newshour set up this debate between a Nobel Prize winner and a certifiable madman, presented it as a contest between equals, and we on the antiwar side of things were thankful for small favors.
No need to go into Peters' comments on the Newshour. You've heard it all before -- the usual mix of lies, rationalizations, and wishful thinking.
But what Muller said contained some revelations. He noted that the new policy only affects troops deployed after Aug. 1, meaning the soldiers currently in Iraq will have to stay there the full 15 months.
But more importantly, he noted that the overwhelming majority of troops scheduled to be deployed from Aug. 1 on through the end of the Bush presidency are National Guard units, who were already largely limited to 12-month deployments.
In other words, the practical effect of Bush's latest exercise in "compassionate conservatism" toward our troops: Approximately zero. Nothing has changed. Like every other mess he's created, the president is merely kicking the can down the road and leaving it to his unfortunate successor to clean up.
It's your problem. Don't mention it.