If you watch war coverage from CNN, NBC, or other major media outlets worldwide, you often see a wizened, white-haired, steely-eyed man pontificating about what is happening in Iraq.
Described only as a former military leader and an expert military analyst, General Barry McCaffrey presents himself as a voice of combat wisdom and analytical independence.
He has been under fire from US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush officials in the past weeks. They’ve criticized him because he has criticized war planning and battlefield readiness.
McCaffrey has led a few wars himself. His military career began in Latin America in the 1960’s, where he helped the US subvert foreign governments. Then he went to Vietnam, where he received three Purple Heart medals for horrendous wounds received there in combat. During the first US war against Iraq in 1991, he commanded the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division, worked with Colin Powell, and also advised the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh published a New Yorker article two years ago alleging that McCaffrey or people under his command committed war crimes during the first Iraq war.
McCaffrey’s efficient killing of people in Iraq during the first Persian Gulf war apparently impressed Bill Clinton. Even though McCaffrey had no experience in public health or social policy, President Clinton put the general in charge of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The former military man brought combat zeal to the mission by attacking medical marijuana patients, their doctors, activists, medical marijuana laws, and pro-pot media.
He orchestrated a controversial, scandal-ridden propaganda campaign that used government money and favors that paid television networks to embed anti-drug messages into prime time programming. His efforts included creation of advertising that contained blatant lies about marijuana, as well as covert computerized surveillance of people who visited anti-drug websites.
By the time McCaffrey resigned in early 2001, he was viewed as a disgraced and hapless figure whose billions of dollars of anti-drug efforts had not reduced drug use and whose tactics were being investigated and criticized by conservative and liberals.
McCaffrey disappeared from the public eye for a few months after his drug czar job ended, but he has now rehabilitated himself. When he appears as a public speaker, consultant, or media personality to talk about the war on Iraq, nobody mentions that he was drug czar. That decade of his life has been erased. Now, he is presented as a battlefield genius who knows best how to decipher the war on Iraq.
It is perhaps ironic that Barry is drawing fire from people like Rumsefeld for being critical of Iraq war strategy.
When he was running the drug war, critics often questioned his intentions, tactics and success. He bitterly criticized his critics, saying that they had no right to be offering advice or dissent. He never listened to anybody but himself. He expected everybody to go along with the drug war whether they believed in it or not. People who asked questions or made critical comments were “hurting the mission.”
Now that McCaffrey is an “outsider” criticizing the war strategies of other people, they are telling him that he is unpatriotic and counterproductive. They charge that he is hurting the morale of American troops, providing encouragement to the beleaguered, outgunned Iraqis, and “hurting the mission.”
McCaffrey responds that he has a right and a duty to point out the failures in the administration’s war policies. He says it’s valuable for war planners to consider a variety of opinions from qualified people not directly involved in the war effort.
Too bad the general wasn’t so open-minded about the value of dissent from critics of his own war policies when he was doing battle against the marijuana plant and the many Americans who enjoy and benefit from it.
Maybe there would have been less casualties?