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The “Petraeus Is Above Criticism” Resolution

September 20, 2007

OK, this whole outrage over the full-page MoveOn.org ad in the NYT has gone a little too far.  Today, the Senate passed a resolution written “to specifically repudiate the unwarranted personal attack on General Petraeus by the liberal activist group Moveon.org”.

The text of the resolution begins with the acknowledgement that the Senate voted unanimously in approval of Petraeus’s selection for the job back in January, followed by a rundown of his resume.  Then, it required that one agree with this statement:

(8) A recent attack through a full-page advertisement in the New York Times by the liberal activist group, Moveon.org, impugns the honor and integrity of General Petraeus and all the members of the United States Armed Forces.

While the preceding 7 findings were a matter of relatively indisputable fact, this last one was clearly a matter of opinion.  While one might agree that the ad was obviously directed at Petraeus, I consider it a bit of a stretch to say that it “impugns the honor and integrity” of “all the members of the United States Armed Forces”.  This could be one basis for voting negative on this resolution, even before you get to the “sense of the Senate” part.  That part, incidentally, contained this rather vague statement:

(2) to strongly condemn any effort to attack the honor and integrity of General Petraeus and all the members of the United States Armed Forces

What is an “attack”, really?…and… According to who? Could it be any disagreement with anything he states?  This is the crux of my problem with the resolution.  If you put the MoveOn ad aside for a second, this appears to be a politically motivated effort to solidify a sense of Petraeus’ infallibility. This could be dangerous territory. The Senate could effectively be signing on to the notion that they cannot question the actions, statements or motivations of people simply because they are in the military. I mean, read it again. It’s a broad and sweeping statement. 

The final vote was 72-25 in favor, with notable nays coming from presidential candidates Clinton and Dodd.  Other Dem hopefuls, Obama and Biden, didn’t vote. 

Update:  As predicted, the blogosphere is going nuts over this, complete with the usual spin.  Again, my personal conclusion is that you could support Petraeus, the military and the mission in Iraq and still vote negatively on the resolution, simply because it is technically too ambiguous and seems crafted in an effort to give the military (and Petraeus specifically) too much power in the political arena.  At the same time, a vote of nay doesn’t necessarily “support” the actions of MoveOn.  A negative vote on this could be nothing more than unwillingness to be subjected to someone’s opinion on what exactly an “attack” is.  To me, he idea that a disagreement over a decision, course of action, or even a claim could be seen as an “attack” worthy of “condemnation” is more than a little unsettling, and I think that this resolution leaves that door open.  Nevermind the fact that this resolution insulates Petraeus (and, depending how you read it, “all the United States Armed Forces”) from accusations of being disingenuous or outright lying even if it was blatantly obvious that he (they) were. 

Oh well, it passed.  I suppose that it will be interesting to see what effect this has over the debate.

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