It used to be the proud heritage of our country that our first president said as a boy, “I cannot tell a lie”, fessing up to the fact that he had, wrongly, chopped down a cherry tree, an ethical standard that was associated with him throughout his presidency and beyond. Today we have a leader who would be in danger of perjuring himself if he were to make such a claim. And, unfortunately, the majority of the American people have reached a point where they no longer trust the president, his administration or the advocates of his policies.
True to form, however, Republican candidates for president and others in Congress and the media have chosen to focus on expressions of mistrust engendered by years of duplicity and changing rationales, most especially with respect to the invasion of Iraq, rather than the underlying causes of widespread national cynicism from a skeptical public about statements emanating from the White House and military command.
Political discussion is dominated once more with the time-worn accusations from Republicans that Democrats disrespect the military and fail to grasp the seriousness of terrorist threats. A two-pronged attack leveled at them derives from the Move-on.Org ad punning on General Patraeus’ name and the pointed questioning of him in the Senate by Hillary Clinton. The picture of a much-decorated military figure being wrung out by politicians was an opportunity to pull out all the patriotic stops Republicans simply could not resist. And the ad got lots of attention as calls to repudiate it were addressed to Clinton and other Democrats.
Senator McCain, a major supporter of the war, albeit acknowledging its having been mis-managed by former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, said that if someone was “not tough enough to repudiate a scurrilous attack” on a decorated officer, “I don’t know how you’re tough enough to be president of the United States” – – trying to create an issue of toughness where none exists in a lame attempt to question the strength of an opposing party’s candidate who just happens to be a woman. One might, however, be inclined to look back to the 2000 primary campaign during which McCain and his family were maligned by the Bush organization and wonder if someone willing to ignore those scurrilous attacks for future partisan advantage really has the strength of character and judgment to be president.
And one cannot help but recall the merciless attacks on Senator Kerry in the last presidential election by the putative Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The Republican Party accepted the tactics employed by that group because they advanced their political goals, and there were precious few repudiations or disavowals from Bush advocates who could have stopped the process in its tracks if they had so desired.
In the end the real issue is truth itself. No-one disputes General Patraeus’ credentials or his service, but what everyone in the Senate and the public has a right and indeed a duty to explore is the veracity of the claims he makes. When the General stated that he wrote his remarks himself without presidential input, that is probably technically true, but to imagine that there was no regular communication or discussion with the president prior to his testimony does in fact require the willing suspension of disbelief – – chest full of medals or not. The General’s “I don’t know” in response to Republican Senator Warner’s question about whether our presence in Iraq has made our country safer was later tweaked by him to seem less indecisive, the result perhaps of a call from the president during a Senate break.
It is also known that Sunni alliances with US forces in Anbar province had begun to take shape before the surge and not as a result of it, something that wasn’t made clear in testimony. Likewise, reports of diminished sectarian violence were misleading for a variety of reasons having to do with the methods used to determine the number of casualties and descriptions of the violence itself as well as the sectarian divisions that have established themselves throughout Iraq. In addition the dueling visions of how many troops will be relieved of combat duty were bandied about by the general and the president as if some of those decisions hadn’t already been made on the basis of established rotation procedures not because “draw-downs” were new policy directives.
And no matter what one makes of Iran’s actions in Iraq they are, after all, next-door neighbors while the United States is, well, a distant, often unwelcome, player in that troubled part of the world. If one were to imagine, for example, that Russia or some other country invaded Mexico, removed its leader and occupied its land because of some real or imagined threat to its homeland would the United States be a disengaged observer of events on its southern border? When our leaders talk about Iran “meddling” in Iraq it rings a little hollow. And the constant if veiled threat of a US military intervention in Iran is more than a little troubling given the unrest and destruction our Iraq policy has already caused in the region.
Is it any wonder that so much of what our leaders say is greeted with such distrust? In the coming elections, voters will need to be more discerning than in the past and not continue to mistake tough talk for sound policy or be taken in by patriotic rhetoric that too often clouds the truth and masks a hidden agenda.

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