Thursday, April 15, 2010

Daoud Kuttab On the General Petraeus Saga

Remember the whole General David Petraeus controversy? If you don't, here's a reminder.

On March 17th, General Petraeus supposedly said in a briefing that conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians fosters anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East. The Huffington Post did not cover that story, but did publish a follow up of ADL's response to it.

The next day (March 18th), Max Boot of Commentary Magazine wrote an article in which he proved that Petraeus said no such thing.

A week later on March 25th Philip Klein of American Spectator interviewed Petraeus and the record was set straight. There was even a Youtube video to go with it. The next day Heather Robinson wrote a blog post about it for the Huffington Post, as did Matthew Duss, who claimed that Petraeus still endorsed the "spillover theory," even if his linkage theory is not as direct.

On the 25th noted anti-Israel blogger Daoud Kuttab wrote a story with the inflammatory title, "Netanyahu to Endanger US Troops For Another Year." He paid lip service to Petraeus' statement, apparently not noticing what exactly the General's views were. Let me quote from Klein's article for just one moment:
When asked about the claim that the perception that the U.S. is too reflexively pro-Israel puts American soldiers at risk, Petraeus said, “There is no mention of lives anywhere in there. I actually reread the statement. It doesn’t say that at all.”
Both Klein and Kuttab's articles came out on the same day, so I don't blame Kuttab for not seeing Klein's interview. Even so, Petraeus himself says that there is no mention of "lives," so why is Kuttab implying that that was what he said? Apparently Kuttab did not check the testimony himself before writing his article, nor printed a retraction after it was already out there. What a surprise.

But now, April 8th, almost two weeks later, Kuttab has written yet another article based on Petraeus' words. It's called, "Patraeus Takes the Genie Out of the Bottle." It seems that according to Kuttab, Petraeus never corrected himself. Or even if Petraeus had, his original statement was still right and Kuttab is just going to act as if the correction had never occurred. In fact, if you look at the article itself, you will see that though Kuttab bases his entire article on Petraeus' words, he never directly quotes Petraeus. Why do you suppose that is? Perhaps it is because Petraeus never actually said that "hardline Israel is a liability to American interests," as Kuttab implies he did?

 Once Kuttab begins his article with Petraeus' false words, he runs with them. According to Kuttab, now Petraeus is a champion of truth, he says, "the words that many have been saying behind closed doors for decades," in other words, that blind American support for Israel is a detriment. This is a two part strawman, of course. Not only did Petraeus never say anything about American support for Israel (his comments were about the Israeli/Palestinian peace, or lack thereof) but I don't think many Americans would agree that "blind" American support is a good thing. Nor has American support for Israel ever been "blind."

Here's a couple more ironic quotes from Kuttab's article, after he finishes talking about how American politicians are starting to be more interested in creating a Palestinian state. Dude, they have been since Clinton!:
"It is difficult for pro-Israel forces, ...to argue with a general as popular as Petraeus. [They] have been careful not to publicly challenge Petraeus' statement, many behind-the-scenes efforts have attempted to reverse it."
Good lord. We don't need to argue with Petraeus, or challenge what he said. He himself did that. Did Mr. Kuttab just stop reading the newspapers after they no longer told him what he wanted to hear? Now, perhaps Kuttab is simply referring to something else that Petraeus said that wasn't reversed in his Klein interview. Let's take a look at what Petraeus said was his main point:
“Their [moderate Arab leaders] concern is that those who promote violence in Gaza and the West Bank will claim that because there’s no progress diplomatically, the only way they get progress is through violence,” he said. “And that’s their concern.”
Okay, so what Petraeus said is that it's not a good idea to promote violence in the territories because other people will look to that as a model of how to pursue their own ends, therefore the Israeli/Palestinian dispute should be resolved through diplomacy instead of violence. This does not strike me as a particularly earth-shattering revelation. And more importantly, he doesn't have anything to say about US support for Israel, blind or otherwise. The Anti-Defamation League and others completely backed down after he clarified his views. Why would they, if Kuttab is right?

Kuttab continues with a slight tangent, speaking about how important it is in the minds of those same moderate Arab leaders that there be movement toward peace. He claims that the Palestinians "must continue to be limited to popular and non-violent protests," and comes back to Petraeus with this final remark:
"Petraeus has made a courageous statement that could play a key role in weakening the pro-Israel lobby and allow for a much more balanced US approach to the Middle East conflict."
 It's a blow to the integrity of this article that Kuttab bases his thesis around a very praise-worthy comment by Petraeus but does not (a) quote it directly or (b) provide a source for it. He instead leaves his audience to scratch their heads in wonder about what exactly the "courageous statement" is. One would assume that it would be "endangering American lives" statement, but Petraeus himself made it clear that he never said that. It might be linkage between lack of Israeli/Palestinian peace, but Petraeus took that back too. And the quote I referenced above about the moderate Arab leaders doesn't sound like it could weaken "The Lobby" much at all.

This leaves me to draw one of two conclusions: One possibility is that Kuttab simply ignored Petraeus' self-correction and continued to operate as if it had never happened (hoping his audience had missed Klein's article too). The other is that Kuttab decided instead to write his article about a vague and uncited "statement" by Petraeus for the purposes of perpetuating his belief that there is a large but dormant anti-Israel movement in this country. Neither one of these theses is backed up by documented facts, however.

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