If this is winning . . .

Bush and Cheney insist that the United States is winning the war on terror. The news from Iraq suggests something different.

By Tim Grieve
Published June 2, 2005 12:55PM (EDT)

Remember when George W. Bush said the war on terror couldn't be won? The president's statement came in August 2004 in response to a direct question from NBC's Matt Lauer. The two were talking about the war on terror, and Lauer asked, "So I'm just saying, can we win it? Do you see that?" And Bush said, "I don't think you can win it."

Over the next few days, Bush explained and backpedaled and tried to re-write his answer. By the time Bush sat down for a chat with Rush Limbaugh a few days after his Matt Lauer interview, the president had it completely disassembled. "I probably needed to be a little more articulate," he said. "Really what I was saying to Lauer was, is that this is not the kind of war where you sit down and sign a peace treaty. It's a totally different kind of war. But we will win it."

If the war in Iraq is the central front on the war on terror, as the president insists that it is, then the news reports coming out of that country this week suggest that the United States still isn't winning much of anything. Insurgents are staging something like 70 attacks a day across Iraq, and the results have been devastating. In the month just ended, at least 670 Iraqis and 77 Americans have been killed. It was the worst month ever for Iraqi security forces, the worst month since before January's elections for U.S. troops. June is only two days old, and it's not looking much better. A roadside bomb killed a U.S. marine Wednesday, and a car bombing at a Baghdad airport checkpoint left more than 15 Iraqis wounded. So far today, at least 18 people have been killed in suicide attacks.

So how's the war going now? At his press conferece earlier this week, the president pronounced himself "pleased with the progress" in Iraq. January's elections, he said, "dealt the insurgents a serious blow."

But the administration's real cheerleader on Iraq has always been Vice President Dick Cheney, and he has been in fine form of late. Speaking Wednesday at graduation ceremonies at the Air Force Academy -- one of the few places where the administration can count on finding warm bodies for its war -- Cheney said that the United States is "winning" the war on terrorism. Earlier in the week, Cheney told Larry King that Iraqis are seeing "the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency," and that he expects to see a substantial withdrawal of American troops from Iraq before 2008.

But before planning any V-Day celebrations, perhaps it would be wise to reflect on the vice president's track record as a prognosticator of success in Iraq. As Daily Kos reminds us, it was Cheney, after all, who predicted back in October that January's elections would be the beginning of the end for the insurgents: "They will do everything they can to disrupt the process up to those elections in January," Cheney said then, "because they know that once you've got a democratically elected government in place that has legitimacy in the eyes of the people of Iraq, they're out of business. That will be the end of the insurgency."

It hasn't exactly worked out that way -- and it isn't the first time Cheney has been wrong about Iraq. Remember his pre-war assessment? When Tim Russert asked Cheney before the war began if Americans were prepared for a "long, costly and bloody battle with significant American casualties" -- a question the latest polls seem to answer pretty clearly -- Cheney said, "Well, I dont think its unlikely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe we will be greeted as liberators."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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