Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Big Serious Experts Make Big Serious Arguments

I will return to military contractors, but I want to strike while the iron is hot on this one. Apologies to Glenn Greenwald for the stylistically copped title and writing -- in my defense the radio show used so many variations of "big serious expert" that I could reasonably claim to have developed this mocking style independently.

"Michael O'Hanlon and Anthony Cordesman, two big Middle East watchers just back from Iraq, give us their differing takes on what lies ahead for the country."

Much has been written by Glenn Greenwald and others about the media blitz by O'Hanlon, Cordesman and Pollack so I won't rehash it here.

They are big serious experts, so as you would expect, they make big serious arguments. They do diligent investigation, spend time on the ground, ask the tough questions of the right people while probing deeply for answers; all of which inform their big serious conclusions. Conclusions like the following: (@10:00 in the Windows Media feed)

I would like to see us try a while longer, to hope [em. not added] that the military progress can spill over into the political realm, but I certainly can not give you a convincing theory as to why that is likely to happen[em. added], or sure to happen, I'm just hoping [em. not added] that it might.

In case you didn't quite get that, O'Hanlon repeats it later:

I know that's ["hope"] a funny word to end with but I admit, this is a theory of hope, more than of proof.

What would we possibly do without these big serious experts? James Fearon, Professor of Political Science, responds:

I just don't think hope, without any, you know, kind of rational basis -- it can't be the way to make policy on such an important matter.

Clearly Fearon (who was never referred to by any permutations of "big" and "serious" to the best of my knowledge) is somehow incorrect. How exactly is left as an exercise to the reader.


The other striking thing about the show is how O'Hanlon attempts to dictate what sort of discussion and objections are allowed in our serious discourse -- and rules out dicussions of journalistic methods. (These comments are mosly centered around the 24:00 mark) O'Hanlon can not distinguish between attacks on his reporting techniques and attacks on his personal character. He protests that "I am not the interesting story here" and that we should focus on the "facts on the ground" -- largely anecdotal facts he discovered via a carefully managed military-sponsored tour.

For big serious war experts, not only their motivations but their methods are absolutely off-limits. They are literally infallible and it is unserious and petty to point out that sources provided almost exclusively by the US Military have a vested interest in reporting rose-tinted progress.

From "A War We Just Might Win", with example sourcing information added:

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines [that we were placed with by the military] told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus;
Everywhere [that we were taken to as part of our tour], Army and Marine units were focused on securing the Iraqi population
In Ramadi [where we were taken as part of our tour], for example, we talked with an outstanding Marine captain [in a meeting arranged by the the military] whose company was living in harmony in a complex with a (largely Sunni) Iraqi police company and a (largely Shiite) Iraqi Army unit.
Today, in only a few sectors [that we were taken to] did we find American commanders complaining that their Iraqi formations were useless...

Suddenly not so impressive.

O'Hanlon claims to have asked deeply probing questions, but he never asked what should have been one of the first and most obvious questions: if I am looking for an accurate portrayal of Iraq, why don't I don't I perform independent investigation?

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