It's Time to Draw the Line

The now-infamous ad — “General Petraeus or General Betray Us” — marks a potential watershed in U.S. political discourse. A radical-left interest group has undertaken to accuse our military leadership of treason for working towards victory in the war against Islamic terrorists. The open question now is — will the majority Congressional party continue to tacitly endorse this scurrilous tactic by its most activist supporters, or will this defamation be repudiated? We are about to find out.

The ad in the New York Times defamed a highly respected, highly decorated four star General who has dedicated his life to serving our country. The assault had a specific purpose. It was designed to discredit Gen. David Petraeus in advance of a congressionally ordered report on the situation in Iraq. Gen. Petraeus, while stressing that much work remains, delivered good news about the progress we’re making in the war against Islamic terrorists and rooting out al Qaeda.

For a century or more, as political leaders of both parties have robustly debated defense policy, they have demonstrated the wisdom to avoid personal attacks on the integrity and honor of our military leadership in the field.

But this assault on Gen. Petraeus thus far appears to have the tacit support of one of our major political parties. Most of their members have gone to great lengths to avoid repudiating the ad.

In fact, there is substantial evidence that some members of that party are using as their public hit man, to do the dirty work of character assassination in public while elected officials pretend their hands are clean. On the eve of Gen. Petraeus’s appearance before Congress last week, one unnamed Democratic Senator was quoted as saying, “No one wants to call [Petraeus] a liar on national TV. The expectation is that the outside groups will do this for us.” A highly sympathetic profile of an anti-war coalition in the New York Times Sunday Magazine Sept. 9 underscored the close working relationship between the group, including representatives, with Congressional leadership offices — unnamed, of course.

Shortly after the advertisement appeared, I sponsored a resolution supporting Gen. Petraeus, condemning character assassination of our active duty military leaders and repudiating the ad. The majority leadership made certain the resolution did not receive a vote on the Senate floor last week.

This stratagem is unusual in several ways. Why would a legislative majority be a party to shooting a messenger for bringing them good news? One possible answer — reports of progress in Iraq are not good news to some in Congress, particularly those who have publicly declared we’ve already been defeated there.

The Petraeus testimony was especially revealing in checking the anti-war movement’s credibility. For months, groups such as have tried to convince us that: 1) they support our troops, but 2) we are losing in Iraq. We now know both claims are false.

Gen. Petraeus made it clear our progress in Iraq has been significant. Total attacks have decreased, total civilian casualties have decreased, and Sunni tribal leaders in al Anbar have revolted against al Qaeda. As a result, some American troops are now expected to begin returning home later this year.

Ultimately, this ad warns our troops: man or woman, General or Private, if you talk about our progress, or the importance of our confronting those who wish harm to America, these activists will stop at nothing to brand you a liar and a traitor.

Gen. Petraeus is a soldier, and is not in a position to defend himself directly from political hatchet jobs. But that does not mean we all have to acquiesce to this degradation of our military, and our political discourse, by those who are hoping for a U.S. defeat in the war against terrorism and al Qaeda. These tactics should be rebuked.

The majority will get another opportunity to do the right thing this week, as the Senate debates the Department of Defense Authorization Bill. I will reintroduce my resolution as an amendment.

There will be no “procedural” excuses this time to prevent this resolution from receiving a vote. So the questions will be these: will the majority repudiate these gutter tactics of character assassination? Will they return to bipartisan support for the integrity of our military leadership? Will they stand up and support an honorable man leading our efforts to win the fight against al Qaeda and keep America safe?

There is no doubt our political discourse has become coarser and less civil over recent years. We need to show there is a limit on how low we will allow ourselves to sink in partisan attacks. Defending the integrity of those who risk their lives to defend our freedoms would be an opportune place to draw the line.