Liberal TV Pundits vs. History

To mark the third anniversary of launching the war to depose Saddam Hussein, the manufacturers of the "news" have established their usual template, Realistic Media vs. Pollyanna Bush. It’s not pessimism versus optimism, but reality versus hallucination.

How, then, do we greet the bleats of liberals as they wildly overstate the alleged utter awfulness of the war situation? On CNN, Time writer Joe Klein, one of the nation’s leading worshipers of Bill Clinton, declared to Anderson Cooper, "Rumsfeld ran the most criminally incompetent military campaign, you know, in the last 100 years, perhaps in American history."

Was Klein making a display of chutzpah, or just of his own historical incompetence? How many bungled military campaigns can we assign, just for starters, to Klein’s hero Clinton? The bombing of the El Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan? The "Black Hawk Down" fiasco and withdrawal in Somalia? What about Jimmy Carter’s failed hostage rescue that fell apart in the desert and humiliated an entire nation in the eyes of the world?

Klein might protest that the number of deaths from those campaigns doesn’t compete with the scale of Iraq war losses. Fine. What about Vietnam? Klein looks especially silly in rewinding back 100 years, 200 years in his emphasis on unparalleled military incompetence. Has he never read about the Civil War?

Thank God the likes of Joe Klein weren’t around 60 years ago. Historian Victor Davis Hanson has written that the Normandy campaign in 1944, seen today as so smashingly successful, would be painted as full of dramatic military blunders that were costing the lives of 2,500 American soldiers (SET ITAL) daily (END ITAL). Would Joe Klein like to insist that Gen. Eisenhower or Gen. Marshall should have resigned in disgrace?

But in terms of wild-eyed exaggeration against Rumsfeld, Klein actually was a piker. Days later on CNN’s "The Situation Room," Paul Begala, who bows toward Chappaqua on a prayer mat about as often as Klein, spouted his new enthusiasm for an obscure professor named Martin van Creveld, whom he called "one of the most esteemed military historians in the world." Quoting this learned professor, Begala proclaimed, "This is the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C. sent his legions into Germany and lost them." (Unsurprisingly, James Carville used the very same professor and the very same quote the following morning on NBC’s "Today.")

Begala claimed his good doctor had said it recently, but that wasn’t true: It was published in the Jewish newspaper The Forward in November. That’s not all. Begala didn’t finish the sentence he’s quoting in that article, which is understandable since it would have given the audience the true flavor of this man’s thinking. It ends, "Bush deserves to be impeached and, once he has been removed from office, put on trial along with the rest of the president’s men."

And there’s more still. If you want a good look at what Begala and Carville’s new most esteemed historian in the world would have us do in Iraq, that comes earlier in the piece. He suggests our model is the fall of Saigon, a complete, abject withdrawal: "Clearly this is not a pleasant model to follow, but no other alternative appears in sight."

When CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked about the international signal sacking Rumsfeld would send, Begala shot back: "It would send a signal to our soldiers that incompetence will be punished. When Les Aspin was the secretary of Defense for President Clinton, he was asked to send armor into Somalia. . . . Les Aspin lost his job for that. . . . He was fired because of that."

Can Begala be straightforward about anything? Fired? Funny, that’s not exactly what the media reported when Aspin resigned about two months after the Somalia fiasco. Newsweek reported: "After the massacre, he offered Clinton his resignation. The president turned it down, but the endgame had begun." Less-than-loyal Clinton began searching for a replacement behind his back. When the search was over, "Clinton was gracious with the bad news. He told Aspin to take some time off and come back with an idea of what else he would like to do." Clinton also "praised him at some length for mapping out a new defense strategy, and for his ‘razor-sharp mind.’"

Aspin resented the "college bull session" style of White House meetings, Newsweek said: "Clinton seemed unwilling to set any clear objectives, and his top advisers . . . never could agree on a course of action." Aspin is dead now, so he is blamed by Team Clinton for Team Clinton’s mistakes.

Liberal TV pundits have every right to criticize. But they’re the ones who look untethered to reality when they start inflating Iraq into the biggest disaster in centuries, or even millennia. And by the way, Messrs. Carville and Begala: most foolish war since Caesar Augustus? That’s one hell of an insult to our troops, who are fighting, suffering and dying as we speak.