Last night, in the Austin debate, Barack Obama said this:
"I heard from a Army captain, who was the head of a rifle platoon, supposed to have 39 men in a rifle platoon. Ended up being sent to Afghanistan with 24, because 15 of those soldiers had been sent to Iraq. And as a consequence, they didn't have enough ammunition; they didn't have enough humvees. They were actually capturing Taliban weapons because it was easier to get Taliban weapons than it was for them to get properly equipped by our current commander in chief. Now that's a consequence of bad judgment, and you know, the question is on the critical issues that we face right now who's going to show the judgment to lead."
A number of bloggers on the right went ballistic. Couldn't be true. No how. No way. Curt at Flopping Aces: "I’m gonna call shenanigans (codeword for he is lying through his teeth)". The (cough) Astute Pundit: "Obama at Texas Debate: Liar, Dupe, Or Enemy Propagandist?" (I'll take 'Enemy Propagandist' for five, Alex...)
While this was going on, Jake Tapper (yes, I know) actually spoke to the Captain in question, who confirmed the story. Later, NBC did so as well. And Phil Carter adds:
"In light of my experience in Iraq, Sen. Obama’s comments last night are eminently believable. Sen. Obama is also absolutely right to use this anecdote as a critique of the administration's decision to go to war in Iraq. It is incontrovertible that the war in Iraq diverted scarce military resources (manpower, equipment, etc.) from Afghanistan to Iraq. The cost for that diversion was paid by America's sons and daughters, and our Afghan brethren, who continue to fight in Afghanistan against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. We owe our troops better."
In light of this, the best response would seem to be Tom Maguire's: "As a proud member of the Right Wing Noise Machine (or are we now the Freak Show?) I can only say "Ouch"." Curiously, Tom hasn't had a lot of company. Rusty Schackleford's take is more common among the conservative blogs I've read:
"Tapper called the "Captain" and asked him to verify his own story.
How, exactly, is it "verifying" anything by simply asking the same source if his story is true? This isn't the testimony of one source verifying the testimony of another source. This is two people reporting the testimony of a single source!
No one is accusing Obama of making the story up. We are accusing the "Captain" of making stuff up---or, at the very least, using selective pieces of information in order to lend credence to the bad war/good war theory. Obama then uses an untrue story to further the narrative which he hopes will get him elected."
Curt at Flopping Aces again:
"Of course with the “Captain” remaining anonymous its hard to come right out and say the man is lying since the Pentagon doesn’t have the particulars such as the dates, units, and other important info. With him remaining in the shadows its easier for Barack and his pal Tapper to just say “believe us” because well, just because."
To which I can only say: wow. Or, as John Cole put it:
"Now granted, Phil Carter has some military knowledge, so I would take this a grain of salt when you compare it to the vault of information these bloggers have procured over a lifetime of arranging GI Joe dolls while watching betamax copies of Uncommon Valor in the basement apartment they rent from their parents. I know it is a tough call, but I am gonna go with Obama, Tapper, and Phil Carter on this."
But besides that, consider two things. First, the bloggers I quoted above are accusing this unnamed Captain of lying. It's not exactly clear why they think the Captain lied, or why he would go on lying to various TV networks, but that's what Curt, Rusty, and the gang seem to think. And why do they think this? For the most part*, they cite claims like this (from Ace): "Milbloggers say the platoon is the basic organic unit of the army, and troops are never picked out of a platoon to serve elsewhere", or this (from one of Steve Spruiell's correspondents): "units as small as platoons are not pulled apart like that." That is: claims that the sorts of things the Captain described never happen.
I think that any claim of the form "X never, ever happens" are generally dubious when made about an organization as large as the US Army. They are especially dubious when made about the Army in wartime. Sometimes you can dismiss them out of hand. If, for instance, some Captain were to say that when he was in iraq, the troops under his command would turn into little bunny rabbits and scamper away into the shrubbery, skepticism would be in order. But when someone who has served in combat says something like: my platoon was stripped of some of its men, or: we were short of ammunition, that's really not something you can just assume is a lie in the absence of any further evidence at all.
I have no particular investment in the idea that this soldier is telling the truth. I don't see any good reason to doubt him, but some people lie, and for all I know, he might be one of them. I do, however, care a lot about the idea that we should not impugn someone's honor absent a good reason to do so. And that's what Rusty Shackleford, Ace, et al have done. They are willing to trash someone's good name because what he says doesn't fit their political narrative. And that's despicable.
* Footnote: A Pentagon spokesman later said that he found the Captain's story implausible, though since he didn't know the Captain's name or any of the details, he couldn't say for sure. Most of the blogs posts I've read accusing the Captain of lying were written before this spokesman appeared; Curt's at Flopping Aces is the exception here.