O’Hanlon Defends His Old Friend Petraeus, ‘Convinced’ Pentagon Is Wrong On Iraq Stats

Recently, Brookings analyst Michael O’Hanlon was prominently featured on Fox News’ one-hour biographical account of Gen. David Petraeus. O’Hanlon showered praise on the general, calling him “distinctive,” “noteworthy,” and “self-critical.”

Fox highlighted the fact that O’Hanlon has enjoyed a 20-year personal relationship with Petraeus, extending back to graduate school. As ThinkProgress noted, this relationship leaves doubt about O’Hanlon’s ability to impartially assess Petraeus’s performance.

Yesterday, O’Hanlon escalated his obsessive defense of Petraeus, attacking the Pentagon because its statistics differed than those of his grad school buddy. In a Washington Times op-ed, O’Hanlon acknowledged that the Pentagon’s recent report “clouded” Petraeus’ report:

The latest confusion has arisen from the Pentagon’s own published reports and cannot be blamed on the media or anyone else […]

My examination of the data convinces me Gen. Petraeus and his team in Baghdad have it right, and that the Pentagon needs to re-evaluate how it is assessing and presenting data.

O’Hanlon’s argument focuses on making the case for cherry-picking facts, or selecting what he personally thinks should and should not be included in a tally of violence:

I am less persuaded of the importance of tracking ethno-sectarian killings, where Gen. Petraeus’ data show even more improvement. While somewhat useful as a metric, they are also somewhat hard to define.

He also asserts that one should not focus on tallying wounded Iraqis, criticizing the Pentagon “for some reason focus[ing] on all casualties, including killed and wounded.” “Data on wounded probably also are ‘softer’ than data on killings,” O’Hanlon alleges.


O’Hanlon has acquired a keen ability to make his conclusions fit his personal beliefs. In his infamous New York Times op-ed, he contradicted his own research to portray the escalation as successful. His attack on the Pentagon yesterday reflects how he is continuing to marginalize his own credibility in the foreign policy community.

We can always rely on Michael O’Hanlon to fix the facts around the policy to defend his good friend.