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.