Repulsive Greenwald Hypocrisy

I don’t have much use for polls about 90% of the time. They’re usually wildly inaccurate on their own. That’s why I like what Nate Silver does. Instead of looking at one poll and declaring it as the actual opinion of all of the American people, he evaluates a number of polls and creates a snapshot of what people might be thinking, and what might happen as a result. Basically, no one 

The only thing I hold in less regard than polls are analyses of those polls. In a large number of cases, what these “analysts” do is to create a conclusion, and only cite those numbers that make their pre-formed conclusion. There are several problems with this, of course, most of them painfully obvious. As you know, I try only to deal with facts. 

So, when someone sent me a link to Glenn Greenwald’s piece in yesterday’s Salon, entitled “Repulsive Progressive Hypocrisy,” the first thing I did was roll my eyes at the irony in the headline. Now, in all fairness, Greenwald might not have written the headline; often, editors throw a headline on a piece without consulting with the writer. But in this case the article reflects the headline pretty well. According to Greenwald, progressives are "hypocrites" because, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, we don’t agree with him on his pet issues. 

There's only one problem with this assessment. He has no evidence to support his main contention. 

One of the first things you’ll notice is that Greenwald doesn’t even cite to the poll in his article. He actually cites to an analysis of the poll from the Washington Post. I’m sorry, but the first rule of journalism should be to cite to the original poll, not someone else’s opinion of the poll. But then, Greenwald’s not a journalist, is he? The reporters at the Washington Post, Scott Wilson and Jon Cohen, who should know better, made the same mistakes, though, even though they cited to the poll itself. What no one does is look at the accuracy or efficacy of the poll. For example, both Greenwald and Wilson/Cohen claim 70% of Americans “approve” of Obama’s alleged “decision” to keep open the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Here’s the actual poll question:

… thinking about the following decisions of the Obama administration, please tell me whether you strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove, or strongly disapprove.

                                                        --- Approve ----   -- Disapprove --   No
                                                        NET  Str.  Smwt.   NET  Smwt.  Str.   op.
a. Keeping open the prison at Guantanamo                             
   Bay for terrorist suspects              70    42    28          24       12      13      5

 Am I the only one who can see how that question is flawed?  

President Obama ordered the prison closed. It was Congress who kept him from closing it. By the end of 2010, it was actually illegal for him to even try to close it. Yet, in neither of these articles is there a discussion of the inaccuracy of the question in the first place.  

The Post article says, and Greenwald dutifully repeats as gospel, the following:

The sharpest edges of President Obama’s counterterrorism policy, including the use of drone aircraft to kill suspected terrorists abroad and keeping open the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have broad public support, including from the left wing of the Democratic Party.

And this, as well:

The poll shows that 53 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats — and 67 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats — support keeping Guantanamo Bay open, even though it emerged as a symbol of the post-Sept. 11 national security policies of George W. Bush, which many liberals bitterly opposed.

There are a number of problems with the above statements. First of all, there is the concept of “self-described” anything. Out of a sample of 1000, how many respondents “self-described” as “liberal Democrats?” At most, there could be 50-60. As a skeptic, I have a natural problem with respondents “self-describing” in the first place. But take a look at the last question in the survey:

36. On another subject, what is your view of the Tea Party political movement – would you say you support it strongly, support it somewhat, oppose it somewhat or oppose it strongly?

                 -------- Support --------        --------- Oppose --------          No 
           NET   Strongly   Somewhat   NET   Somewhat   Strongly   opinion
2/4/12     43      12         31                   45          20              25          12

Again, my skepticism kicks in. When 43% of a survey sample supports the Tea Party to any significant degree, I tend to doubt that the sample included very many liberals at all, let alone enough "liberal Democrats" to proclaim that more than half of liberals were a) uninformed enough to not know that Obama didn’t make the decision to leave Gitmo open, and b) agreed that it was a good decision to make.

Another problem is the use of the term "liberal Democrats." Anyone who's followed politics closely over the past 20 years knows who uses that term. It might as well be a dog whistle. Not all liberals are Democrats. What about the other liberals who are not Democrats? 

Also, there is nothing in the published version of the poll that breaks any question down based on ideology, so there is no way to check the veracity of the statement as made in the Post analysis. See, that would have made a great story for an actual progressive to write; where is the evidence supporting the contention that "most" liberals are in favor of keep Gitmo open? 

But Greenwald isn’t really a progressive; he just pretends to be one in order to get paid. And since the statement that more than half of all self-described “progressives” falls within the narrative Greenwald has chosen for himself, rather than question its veracity, he simply repeats it without question and expands upon it. And because Greenwald is an Obama hater of the first order, he can’t stop until he’s made President Obama look like Hitler. Check out this outrage:

Repulsive liberal hypocrisy extends far beyond the issue of Guantanamo. A core plank in the Democratic critique of the Bush/Cheney civil liberties assault was the notion that the President could do whatever he wants, in secret and with no checks, to anyone he accuses without trial of being a Terrorist – even including eavesdropping on their communications or detaining them without due process. But President Obama has not only done the same thing, but has gone much farther than mere eavesdropping or detention: he has asserted the power even to kill citizens without due process. As Bush’s own CIA and NSA chief Michael Hayden said this week about the Awlaki assassination: “We needed a court order to eavesdrop on him but we didn’t need a court order to kill him. Isn’t that something?” That is indeed “something,” as is the fact that Bush’s mere due-process-free eavesdropping on and detention of American citizens caused such liberal outrage, while Obama’s due-process-free execution of them has not.

Beyond that, Obama has used drones to kill Muslim children and innocent adults by the hundreds. He has refused to disclose his legal arguments for why he can do this or to justify the attacks in any way. He has even had rescuers and funeral mourners deliberately targeted. As Hayden said: ”Right now, there isn’t a government on the planet that agrees with our legal rationale for these operations, except for Afghanistan and maybe Israel.” But that is all perfectly fine with most American liberals now that their Party’s Leader is doing it:

After that, he goes on to once again cite the Wilson/Cohen analysis and cite that as “proof” that “most American liberals” think doing all of the above is perfectly fine. Though Greenwald likes to think of himself as an “ investigative journalist” of sorts, his claims don’t ring true. In fact, I left the links in place in the above paragraphs, because they actually put to the lie some of Greenwald’s more outrageous claims.  

We are at war with these people, whether you want to believe that or not. We don’t know what intelligence Obama and the CIA have with regard to the people who have been killed with drones, but to claim that “Obama has used drones to kill Muslim children and innocent adults” is not only inaccurate, it’s downright defamatory, because it implies intent. The military is using drone strikes to kill people who are known terrorists, or who support known terrorists. Sometimes, yes, innocents are killed in the process. But it is NOT ACCURATE to make the claim that Obama is "using drones" to kill civilians and children.

What are they supposed to do; wait until they actually kill hundreds or thousands of people (not always just Americans) with a violent act, and then capture them, put them on trial and throw them in prison? In what fantasy world is that a possibility? And where do we put them in prison? Didn’t Greenwald just complain about Gitmo? Congress has made it illegal to keep them in US prisons, so how are we supposed to handle them?

Yes, I feel bad for the people who are killed in these drone strikes. But I would feel even worse if hundreds of thousands were killed by the terrorists because we waited until they killed someone first, and then we could capture them and put them on trial. What if we can't capture them until they've recruited and sent out several hundred suicide bombers? 

You see, folks, it’s the moral absolutism of people like Greenwald that represents the real hypocrisy. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (ironically, this was cited in the New York Times article that GG himself cites), between 282-535 civilians have been killed in 260 drone strikes over three years, with 60 of them children. That's, at most, 2 per drone strike. If "Obama is us(ing) drones to kill Muslim children and innocent adults by the hundreds," he's failing miserably.

But the question no one asks is, how many lives have been saved by getting rid of al Qaeda and like groups? How many terrorists have not been recruited, because Obama is (relatively quietly) getting rid of the worst of them?

Imagine, if you will, that you had the ability to go back in time, and kill the terrorists who committed the 9/11 terrorist attacks. If you could send drones into those airports and take out all of them, and maybe a couple dozen others in the process, wouldn’t you do it? I mean, if the loss of a few dozen people led to saving the lives of the 3000 who perished on 9/11, you wouldn’t take that chance? I’ll go back to the Hitler analogy from my last post. If you could go back in time and kill Hitler in 1936, during the Olympics, even if you took out several hundred, or even a few thousand, knowing that it would save 6 million people, would you not do it? 

The hypocrisy comes in pretending the world is a nice place, and that adhering to the letter of the law always works no matter what. The hypocrisy comes when you claim that a president who has our military use drones to target specific bad guys and accidentally takes out a few hundred civilians in the process, is morally inferior to a president who started two wars, indiscriminately killing hundreds of thousands of people and creating millions of refugees. That is pure hypocrisy, Greenwald. 

We used to have a president who started one war ostensibly to get Osama bin Laden and anyone else responsible for 9/11 and other terrorist attacks, but didn't, and another war to capture oil for his friends in the oil industry, both of which led to hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties. We now have a president who has ended or is ending both wars, and who is targeting specific bad guys who have announced their intent to murder millions, and in the process of getting rid of those bad guys has fewer than 600 casualties to answer for.

Yet, Greenwald calls US “hypocrites,” and implies that Bush and Obama are roughly the same.

What a hypocrite.

40 comments

  1. >”What are they supposed to do; wait until they actually kill hundreds or thousands of people (not always just Americans) with a violent act, and then capture them, put them on trial and throw them in prison? In what fantasy world is that a possibility? And where do we put them in prison? Didn’t Greenwald just complain about Gitmo? Congress has made it illegal to keep them in US prisons, so how are we supposed to handle them?”
    I’m trying to figure out why you think taking Gitmo, and all the practices that went with it, and simply moving it from Cuba to Virginia, is an attempted reform that Obama should be given points for. But I can’t.
    >”But the question no one asks is, how many lives have been saved by getting rid of al Qaeda and like groups? How many terrorists have not been recruited, because Obama is (relatively quietly) getting rid of the worst of them?”
    I’d argue that more terrorists have been created than been killed due to these policies. I don’t have facts to back this up, but it’s fairly intuitive. Turn the tables – imagine if another country, say China, were piloting unmanned drones within US airspace, ostensibly to kill Chinese dissidents. Can you imagine how southern Christians would respond if another country were violating US sovereignty like that? Now imagine if for every targeted strike of a Chinese dissident, one or two American citizens were also killed. From the point of view of the Chinese government and Progressive Chinese bloggers on the web, these are acceptable losses. It’s not like they’re targeting US citizens intentionally; they’re just trying to fight terrorism, and, well, to make an omelette you have to break a few eggs. Think about how many lives have been saved in the long run, now that these dangerous people are dead.
    But if you follow this analogy, the unforseen consequences are much clearer than they originally were. Americans aren’t sympathetic of the Chinese War on Terrorism. Public opinion polls show that as many as 90% of Americans don’t even know why they’re there. From their point of view, these drone strikes are an act of war. Can you imagine that Americans will just do nothing? I think that the Chinese drone strikes will create more American terrorists than there would have otherwise been.
    Besides that, think of how cowardly the drone strikes look. At least putting boots on the ground shows dedication to a mission, but operating robots half-way across the globe and shooting down anyone with an RPG… it’s just embarrassing. This is why the rest of the world doesn’t respect us.

  2. It is not a fact that Obama’s “doing similar things” as Bush. Of course, I used specific examples in the article you are commenting on, though you haven’t read it.
    By the way, your dismissal of the potential lives saved shows your inherent hypocrisy.

  3. Do you even understand that the phrase “I seriously doubt” disqualifies you from this discussion? That was from one of GREENWALD’S citations. The source was IN THE ARTICLE, and he used it as a basis for his contention that drone strikes have led to massive bloodshed.
    Greenwald is not a hypocrite because he hates Obama. He’s a hypocrite because in this article (and others I critiqued previously), he holds everyone else up to standards he himself is not willing to live up to himself. All I ask for is the truth. Facts are a journalist’s tools. Without them, he becomes a blowhard, and I know enough of those.
    If you’d like to comment here and not have me make fun of you, try commenting on facts contained in both articles. I can’t treat you seriously otherwise.

  4. Another one defending Greenwald by making shit up and arguing against that.
    I imply nothing about Greenwald himself. I am discussing and picking apart THIS PARTICULAR ARTICLE. And I didn’t pick apart one point. Every point he makes in this article is made with absolutely no support. And his reliance on a faulty poll analysis of a supremely faulty poll is pretty “hack-y” don’t you think?
    Here’s a novel concept. Read the goddamn article and pick apart the points I actually make within.
    And I “glazed over” Mike’s post because it was completely irrelevnt to the content of the article. Of course, I noted that in my response. So, the question is, are you ignorant or illiterate? Both, perhaps?

  5. This is exactly right! And what milt has failed to see over and over again is that it is the pinnacle of hypocrisy to criticize Bush when Obama is doing similar things, albeit on a smaller scale (debatable?). His argument cuts both ways: it’s ok for Obama to kill because, ostensibly, Obama causes less damage. But Bush is just wrong, because, well, more deaths happened under his watch, presumably. But then using Milt’s own logic, I can just retort with the simple minded: Well! We don’t know how many more lives would have been lost had Bush not prosecuted the war the way he did! So it’s just a bad argument. Either killing hundreds of civilians is bad or not, Milt. And he seems to be resigned to the position that all we can do to fight the dubious war on terror is to leave civilians dead in the wake, like it seems ok that we do these things as long as the don’t exceed [Milt’s] limit. So what should the limit be, then, milt? Killing lots of civilians is bad so what is the largest amount that is acceptable to you? Bush’s actions may have caused millions of death, but hey, Who cares, remember we don’t know how many more lives could have been lost!!!

  6. ” According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (ironically, this was cited in the New York Times article that GG himself cites), between 282-535 civilians have been killed in 260 drone strikes over three years, with 60 of them children. That’s, at most, 2 per drone strike. If “Obama is us(ing) drones to kill Muslim children and innocent adults by the hundreds,” he’s failing miserably. ”
    Even if those numbers are accurate, which I honestly doubt, 2 innocent deaths per drone strike is alarmingly high. Obama’s decisions as Commander-in-Chief have been highly questionable, and could in no reasonable way could be considered to be progressive. Somehow much of the left still rallies behind him, even though he has shown us time and time again that he was certainly not deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize. Greenwald may use an overly aggressive style in his pieces, but can you really disagree with the main point: that the majority of those on the left who now support Obama’s foreign policy would have opposed the same policy were it George Bush who was behind it? The real problem is that we seem to believe that the lives of Americans are worth more than the lives of those in the Arab world, and this belief is echoed by the actions taken by this administration and the previous ones as well.
    As for Guantanamo, it is truly debatable whether or not the administration was ever serious about clsoing it; and more importantly, the worst feature of gitmo (e.g. indefinite detention without a trial or even formal charges) was going to continue under Obama’s plan to move the prisoners to detention centers in America.
    Not everyone who criticizes Obama is a hypocrite, just like not everyone who supports Obama is. Regardless of partisan bickering, it is truly important that issues like these are put in the spotlight, but they are so rarely even mentioned in traditional media (state secret or not, we all know it is happening).

  7. Milt, it sounds disingenuous on your part to imply that Glenn is some sort of unreliable hack because he may have been wrong on one point in one article he wrote. Secondly, the fact that the Congress voted overwhelmingly to keep Guantanamo open shows that there is in fact a large consensus on major issues from both parties. Third, you keep obsessing over the Guantanamo bit and you neglect most of his salient points. He made reference to other problems in the administration and you just glazed over them or made them out to be no big deal. I think the reason Glenn was saying Liberals are being hypocritical is because they now seem to glaze over issues that they would have been repulsed by under bush. Finally, you are kind of a douchebag treating Mike’s post the way you did. You glazed over just about everything he said and kept harping on the Guantanamo issue. Why is that? Why aren’t you addressing all of the other points?

  8. Ok, first of all, you have, like all of the others defending Greenwald, completely abandoned the premise of this article in order to present the largest hunk of straw you can find to knock down. But you; you’re a real piece of work, because you don’t even get Greenwald’s main premise right.
    The premise of Greenwald’s piece is that, based on a single poll, American liberals are hypocrites, because they support the same things with Obama that they derided when Bush was president.
    My piece derides the fact that Greenwald makes the above statement, but offers absolutely no proof that we feel that way. None. Zip. Nada. The poll asks one fallacious question that Greenwald only addresses to show what a bunch of hypocrites we liberals are.
    My article is about Greenwald’s lack of support for his premise. The fact that you had to make up a premise for Greenwald’s article out of thin air shows a remarkable degree of either illiteracy or disingenuousness; since I don’t know you, I can’t tell which it is. Although, the fact that you think Obama is largely continuing Bush policies leads me to believe it’s the former, as is your contention that both parties are largely the same.
    And the reason the prison at Guantanamo is still open is because Congress (and frankly, the American people) demanded it so. I know you don’t read the news very closely, but throughout 2010, every time Obama took steps to close Gitmo, there was a major flap, and someone prevented it. Finally, Congress just made it impossible. It’s not ILLEGAL got him to spend any federal money to transport anyone out of that prison, or to bring any of them onto United States territory. You know, like for trial. And lest you think this was a right wing plot, the vote to do so in the Senate was 93-1.
    You’d know that if you read more. Again, the premise that Obama “decided” to keep Gitmo open is FALSE, which makes the poll’s premise fatally flawed, and means there is no proof of the basic premise of Greenwald’s article. Not that you understood the premise, anyway.

  9. I’m not going to comment on how accurately the views of members of various political groups are represented by the poll, but Greenwald’s main point is being missed here. Many, many people made arguments attacking specific policies of Bush using rhetoric such as “shredding the constitution” etc. who have either not condemned Obama for the same policies (sometimes doubled down) or have outright supported the very same policies that several years ago they decried as gross violations of the constitution. From the archives of this very blog:
    http://pleasecutthecrap.typepad.com/main/2007/06/dear-democrats-.html
    The next president will have the daunting task of restoring the Constitution to its rightful place at the top of our system of laws. While the Iraq war did much to undermine our constitutional system, most of the damage was done by the Bush administration, with the full complicity of the Republicans in Congress, under the guise of protecting us from “terrorism.” Yeah, right.
    http://pleasecutthecrap.typepad.com/main/2007/07/impeachment-fol.html
    The current administration sees every investigation as a major pain in its ass, and no one’s ever been fired for doing anything wrong, although a few have been forced out for siding with the Constitution over their “fuehrers” Bush and Cheney.

    Why does this Administration continue to hold hundreds of prisoners after nearly five years, without charges, without trial, and in most cases, without counsel? And is such disregard for the basic principles of justice out of a sense of keeping the country secure, or a reflection of their disdain for the rule of law?

    http://pleasecutthecrap.typepad.com/main/2007/08/padilla-found-g.html
    Several men were given counsel, tried in a court of law and convicted of being involved in terrorist plots, thus proving that the system created by our founding fathers, and embodied in the Constitution works, and the system the Bushies have created, which bypasses all of that, does not.

    Now, doesn’t that sound just a little bit more legitimate than simply declaring a bunch of people “enemy combatants” and keeping them in jail, just for the hell of it?

    Greenwald does actually have one very big point: Bush locked people up and was condemned as the reincarnation of Hitler for doing so; Obama has ordered the extra judicial killing of American citizens and there isn’t even really minor criticism.
    It’s similar to how the anti-war movement died on November 3, 2008.
    http://www.npr.org/2011/04/15/135391188/whatever-happened-to-the-anti-war-movement
    “It’s a far cry from the Bush years, when hundreds of thousands or millions marched against the war,” David Boaz, executive vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute, writes on the Britannica website. He asks the same question: Whatever happened to the anti-war movement?
    In the post, he points out that American protests against wars seemed to stop the moment Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. “Maybe anti-war organizers assumed that they had elected the man who would stop the war,” he observes.
    But the wars have continued. More than two-thirds of Americans have opposed military intervention in Libya, Boaz reports, and nearly two-thirds of Americans — a number that is up dramatically since early 2010 — believe the war in Afghanistan hasn’t been worth fighting. “Where are their leaders?” Boaz wants to know. “Where are the senators pushing for withdrawal? Where are the organizations?”
    He concludes that the anti-war activity in the United States — and around the world — a few years ago “was driven as much by antipathy to George W. Bush as by actual opposition to war and intervention.”
    To buttress his assertions, Boaz cites a recently published study of anti-war protesters. The research was conducted by Michael Heaney of the University of Michigan and Fabio Rojas of Indiana University. It concludes that the anti-war movement in America evaporated because Democrats — inspired to protest by their anti-Republican feelings — stopped protesting once the Democratic Party achieved success in Congress in 2006 and then in the White House in 2008.
    “As president, Obama has maintained the occupation of Iraq and escalated the war in Afghanistan,” Heaney, an assistant professor of organizational studies and political science, said in a news release. “The anti-war movement should have been furious at Obama’s ‘betrayal’ and reinvigorated its protest activity.”

    http://washingtonexaminer.com/politics/beltway-confidential/2009/08/what-happened-antiwar-movement-cindy-sheehan-hits-hypocrisy
    The “anti-war” “left” was used by the Democratic Party. I like to call it the “anti-Republican War” movement.
    While I agree with you about the hypocrisy of such sites as the DailyKos, I have known for a long time that the Democrats are equally responsible with the Republicans. That’s why I left the party in May 2007 and that’s why I ran for Congress against Nancy Pelosi in 2008. – Cindy Sheehan

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