Ken Pollack’s Defense of Lying

This New York Times article about how John McCain’s political strategy is based on fundamentally misleading people about the nature of the situation in Iraq, but that’s okay with the media not because they’re fooled but just because they like John McCain, has gotten a lot of attention, and rightly so. But this particular paragraph is especially telling:

In longer discussions on the subject, Mr. McCain often goes into greater specificity about the entities jockeying for control in Iraq. Some other analysts do not object to Mr. McCain’s portraying the insurgency (or multiple insurgencies) in Iraq as that of Al Qaeda. They say he is using a “perfectly reasonable catchall phrase” that, although it may be out of place in an academic setting, is acceptable on the campaign trail, a place that “does not lend itself to long-winded explanations of what we really are facing,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, research director at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

At a time like this, you have to ask yourself what is the Brookings Institution for. According to the Brookings website:

The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC. Our mission is to conduct high-quality, independent research […] The research agenda and recommendations of Brookings experts are rooted in open-minded inquiry and our scholars represent diverse points of view. More than 200 resident and nonresident fellows research issues; write books, papers, articles and opinion pieces; testify before congressional committees and participate in dozens of public events each year. The Institution’s president, Strobe Talbott, is responsible for setting policies that maintain Brookings’s reputation for quality, independence and impact.

To me, that sounds inconsistent with offering a public defense of the practice of using the term “al-Qaeda” to refer to entities that are not al-Qaeda. High-quality research would be that if some large number of public officials and media personalities started referring to something as “al-Qaeda” when it was not, in fact, al-Qaeda you try to correct the record. Instead, Pollack seems to feel his job is to help push back against the people who are trying to correct the public record.

It’s certainly an interesting development. A lot of very good people work at Brookings. I imagine they enjoy working at a place that has a reputation for “high-quality, independent research . . . rooted in open-minded inquiry” but it’s a reputation they’re in danger of losing. Strobe Talbott, who’s “responsible for setting policies that maintain Brookings’s reputation for quality, independence and impact” might want to think about some of this.