Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Fake PhD Played the Neocon Fantasy World and Hijacked The Syria Debate

One of my constant criticism of the far right and the Christofascists is their love of "experts" who in fact have no legitimate credentials.   Indeed, FRC, CWFA and AFA are notorious for their fake experts who have no background on issues on which they pontificate despite the lofty titles they are given.  As long as one is saying what these extremists want to hear and playing to their prejudices, you can become an overnight sensation and have credibility where none is merited.  Think Progress looks at the manner in which Elizabeth O’Bagy, a supposed PhD expert on Syria duped the pro-war Neocons and Republican members of the U. S. Senate.  The problem is that Ms. Bagy is no PhD and she played people for fools by saying what they wanted to hear.  I never cease to be amazed how people who ought to know better never bother to check out credentials.  Here are highlights from the Think Progress story:

Dr. Elizabeth O’Bagy, Syria expert, made quite an impression on Senator John McCain. During Senate hearings, the former Presidential candidate quoted at length from her recent Wall Street Journal op-ed painting a rosy picture of a mostly secular, pro-Western anti-Assad insurgency.

“John, do you agree with Dr. O’Bagy’s assessment of the opposition?,” the Senator asked the Secretary of State John Kerry. “I agree with most of that,” he replied. 

Except Dr. O’Bagy wasn’t actually a doctor. Her PhD was fabricated, a lie she told her employers at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), an influential neoconservative-aligned think tank, to get hired. Ironically, it ended up being the lie that got her fired Wednesday. This postmodern reenactment of the Icarus myth also provides a bizarrely informative window into the way that Washington’s foreign policy sausage gets made.

O’Bagy got her start last year, when she interned for ISW’s Iraq portfolio while completing a Master’s in Arab Studies at Georgetown University.  . . .  Several media outlets have repeated this account as fact in their write-ups of O’Bagy’s firing, all maintaining that she is still in the process of completing a Georgetown doctorate.

This is almost certainly false. Either O’Bagy was at one point enrolled a PhD program and dropped out, or she has been lying the entire time. Some evidence points to the latter.  . . . . She is not listed as a PhD student on the Government department’s website. She does not exist in the university directory. A search of the entire Georgetown website turns up only one hit, a congratulations notice for her Master’s graduation.

However O’Bagy acquired her contacts, the work they helped her produce was influential and widely respected. Over the course of roughly a year, she went from a graduate student and intern to a pundit making regular appearances on Fox News and being published in Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, and well, The Wall Street Journal. She was promoted to Senior Analyst and then to Syria Team Lead at ISW, and had become known as a go-to expert on the Syrian rebels among foreign policy experts. But the closer Icarus flew to the sun, the faster the wax on her feathers began to melt.

Regardless, O’Bagy’s rise and fall is yet more evidence that the talented people who populate America’s media and policy apparatus never seem to quite fully internalize: never, ever lie about something someone else can prove you wrong about. You’re going to get caught.

Andrew Sullivan has some telling, put dead on point comments about the Neocons and the far right:

The Kagans – so many you can barely keep track of them – are a particularly Washington clan. Like other neocons – the Podhoretzes and Kristols come to mind – the family occupies various posts and play assorted roles in advancing the idea of US global hegemony, constant interference in other countries (but never Israel!), and warfare. They played a key part in deceiving much of official Washington – wittingly or not – about the situation in Iraq, and thereby bear responsibility for the catastrophe that followed. Their “surge” subsequently failed to achieve what it was designed for: getting a multi-sectarian government with lower levels of mass violence in Iraq. You can see how utterly divorced from reality that pipe-dream was by just reading the news reports daily of the low-burning civil war there every day.

So is anyone surprised they were duped again? Zack Beauchamp (former Dishtern) gives a great account of the sorry story of how the woman who became one of the more conspicuous advocates for full-scale entry into another Middle East civil war was not what she said she was. Elizabeth O’Bagy lied to Kimberley Kagan about her doctorate and Kagan never checked it out before putting her Institute for the Study of War on record behind it.

It’s a classic example of how dubious actors with vague backgrounds can ascend so rapidly in Washington as long as they are parroting one faction’s preferred version of the truth. This isn’t unique to the neocons, of course. But since they currently hold the world record in being duped and duping others on matters of war and peace, the fact that this is still happening – especially after the lies and bullshit that occurred before the war in Iraq – is instructive that these people never learn.

These were the people touting Chalabi, remember? These were the people telling us there was no serious sectarian issue in Iraq under Saddam and a civil war was highly unlikely if we invaded. These were the people dismissing the notion in advance that we did not have enough troops to secure the country. These were the people – once trapped in their own delusional universe – that sanctioned grotesque and endemic torture of prisoners as a way to get out of it.

It sickens me to see this same propaganda machine wheeled into action again, and to see Washington take it seriously. But it heartens me as well that this unreliable person and demonstrable liar has been exposed. May she be the first of many.
Which brings us back to the question of why does anyone listen to these people who have proved to be so demonstratively wrong much less supposed "experts" that no one has vetted?

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