The president has no clothes

The "disconnect" between "Rose Garden optimism" and reality on the ground in Iraq

Published June 6, 2005 2:03PM (EDT)

The mainstream press has a lot to answer for when it comes to Iraq. How did reporters and editors at the nation's major newspapers fall so hard for the Bush's administration's pre-war spin on Iraq? Why has the press all but ignored the Downing Street memo? And why can't somebody ask George W. Bush about the memo's allegation that he and his administration "fixed" the facts and intelligence to make a case for war that wasn't there otherwise?

But we take a break from the drum-beating today to salute Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker for their report on Iraq in Sunday's Washington Post. Get past the "he said, she said headline" -- "Bush's Optimism On Iraq Debated" -- and you'll find in the VandeHei/Baker piece a fine bit of "emperor has no clothes" reporting.

"President Bush's portrayal of a wilting insurgency in Iraq at a time of escalating violence and insecurity throughout the country is reviving the debate over the administration's Iraq strategy and the accuracy of its upbeat claims," VandeHie and Baker report. And in the next 1,300 words or so, the two reporters make it clear that there's not really much of a debate at all: What there is is a "disconnect" between the administration's "Rose Garden optimism" and the reality on the ground.

Bush can say that he's "pleased" with the progress in Iraq, but that's not what U.S. commanders have been telling visiting congressional delegations. "The idea that the insurgents are on the run and we are about to turn the corner, I did not hear that from anybody," Sen. Joe Biden, who just returned from Iraq, told the Post. Rep. Curt Weldon, a Republican from Pennsylvania who is also just back from Iraq, told the Post that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other administration officials are misleading Americans about the number Iraqi troops capable of assisting U.S. forces or standing up to the insurgency on their own.

And Cheney can say that we're seeing the "last throes" of the insurgency, but another Republican, Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio, told the Post that he "cannot say with any confidence that that is accurate." Chabot, a member of the House International Relations Committee, said: "I think it's impossible to know how close we are to the insurgency being overcome."

A source the Post identifies as "Western diplomat in Baghdad" said that Americans should be prepared for a "long grind-it-out" in Iraq. "If you pull back far enough, you see a positive trend," he said. "The negative is we've had some really spectacular car bombs, really gruesome car bombs and we've had a terrible civilian death toll. . . . The overall trend lines for the last six to seven months are better, but not so much better that we can say it's over or we won."

Can't say we won? Clearly, those America-haters and disassemblers at the Post -- and in Baghdad and in the military and in the Republican Party -- just don't get it. Doesn't everybody understand that we've won already?

By Tim Grieve

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

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