In the terrific documentary Control Room about the Al-Jazeera network, one of the most appealing figures was Marines spokesman Captain Josh Rushing. With the possible exception of Ken Pollack’s The Threatening Storm, I don’t think that I saw or read a more persuasive spokesman for the war in Iraq. He engaged often-critical Al Jazeera journalists in a fair-minded way, without giving up a point. He simultaneously radiated candor and a deeply-felt belief in the righteousness of the cause. My fiancee said that she wished she could hire him.
He’s recently left the Marines, and he’s given his first interview to Fresh Air today on NPR. You can listen to it online. I haven’t heard it yet, but I suspect that most people who saw Control Room would be interested in what he has to say.
UPDATE: That was really something. He’s deeply pro-military, but critical of the way the war has been conducted. If the election wasn’t days away, I suspect that he’d be in for the full-strength “slime and defend” treatment. More below.
Here are my real-time notes, which I might revise after listening again:
He feels “duped” about the intelligence. He says it hit him when Colin Powell admitted that the intelligence had been deliberately manipulated.
He used to spend all of his spare time online in chat rooms; he would tell people who he was and try to clear up misperceptions about the war.
He says that Fox reporters would ask him what points he wanted to get across before the interview, and they would essentialy script the interview before the cameras started rolling.
Al Jazeera would ask extremely combatative questions, often based on false premises, and then simultaneously show an unrelated bloody scene to make it seem that he’s responding to the scene.
He loved “Iraq for Dummies”; he read it on the plane, and it made him look like an expert by the time he arrived in Iraq.
He thinks there was too much White House influence in the communications corps. They brought in a White House insider, a civillian from the Bush campaign. They promoted him to two-star rank, so that he outranked the colonel who would normally have been in charge of communications. Several other Bush adminstration officials opened an office next to theirs, and it changed the way they operated.
The communications corp have been proud of being non-partisan and straight shooters, but he thinks that they were compromised. He was occasionally accused of being a political flack by a reporter. During the war, he would have argued with that. Afterwards, he’d have to agree that sometimes they were carrying water for the administration. He cites a scene in the film about looting- they were promoting the message that Iraqis were responsible for protecting themselves from looting, which he personally thought was absurd. Since they had just taken over the city, of course they were responsible for security.
He says that his personal values say that you should admit mistakes. He believes that there’s a culture now that says that you never admit a mistake. Says that culture goes all the way to the White House, citing the second debate when Bush couldn’t think of a single mistake. “I find that kind of hubris disturbing, and I think the rest of the world finds it a little arrogant- even beyond arrogant, even delusional at some point.”
Doesn’t think that he’s alone. Cites the survey that says that most in the military are Republican, and says that’s been true for a long time, but in the past year he’s heard more criticism of the Administration than he’d ever heard before.
Very frustrated because he was told “You can’t speak to the press about Control Room“. When Abu Ghraib broke, he was quoted in a piece in the Village Voice about how the horror of war. He says he would have liked to have given America the message that it wasn’t just him- there were legions of people like him, who would have said exactly the same thing. But he was accused of grandstanding, which he found very hurtful.