Thursday, October 12, 2006

Oh, you tricky devil

Victor David Hanson critiques the major books on the Iraq War including the new Bob Woodward, Fiasco and Cobra II. He notes that all of the books use anonymous sources and then argues that we are therefore getting a dishonest picture of the war.

Fair enough, when sources are anonymous you can't verify the statements or lay the claims at someone's door. However there are a number of qualifiers to this. For one, the Bush administration has made a bad habit of punishing outspoken members of government. The most shameful case was that of Gen. Shinseki who closely predicted how the war would turn out, and was given the bum's rush for his troubles. This was a four star general. Is it surprising that lower ranked military and civil servants are not going to openly criticize?

For another, Hanson sidesteps the actual argument. Yes, the authors partly base their arguments on anonymous sources, but only partly. Is Hanson arguing that they made up the idea that the war is going badly or was bungled in 2003? Much of that argument is well supported by official interviews in the books. As a further insult to our intelligence, Hanson writes that we are midstream in the war and can't be sure how we are doing. This says we can't critique government policy until that policy is complete. That's foolish and requires a slavish adoration of authority.

Finally and most importantly, Hanson is pulling a rhetorical trick. By lumping all three books together he is tarring all of them with the sins of a single book. The Woodward book has a much greater ratio of anonymous to open statements. That's his thing, he has access to people most reporters don't. The other two books place much greater emphasis on named interviews. Hanson would have us believe it is all just a bunch of gossip from disgruntled civil servants who didn't get their way. Don't believe him.


Steve said...

Hansen is a hack and - much worse - his books are really mediocre. I've tried two because the subjects sound so dang interesting but man are they average. I'm about to take a shot at his recent history of the Peloponessian War. We'll see.

Tripp said...

Hmmm, you are a kind reader to go back to the well so often. I started the Pelopenessian and liked it, but I had to return it to the library unfinished, thanks to time.