"We're losing in Iraq"

Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel says that the White House is disconnected from reality.

Published June 20, 2005 12:36PM (EDT)

Members of the Bush team may scoff at those of us in the "reality-based community," but even some of their own are beginning to call the administration on its tenuous relationship with the facts on the ground in Iraq. In this week's U.S. News & World Report, Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel -- he would be a Republican -- says it's time for the White House to come to grips with the hard truth about the war: "The reality," he says, "is that we're losing in Iraq."

"Things aren't getting better; they're getting worse," Hagel tells the magazine. "The White House is completely disconnected from reality. It's like they're just making it up as they go along."

Hagel has criticized the administraton's handling of the war before, but his talk of "losing in Iraq" represents his harshest assessment yet. His comments come after Vice President Dick Cheney declared that we're seeing "the last throes" of the insurgency in Iraq but before 37 Iraqis died in suicide bombings and other attacks Sunday and 20 more were killed Monday -- and before Condoleezza Rice made the rounds of the weekend talk shows to boast of the progress being made in the war. On Fox News Sunday, Rice dismissed the insurgency as "a few terrorists and so-called insurgents who are plying their wares in a way that gets a lot of attention" and claimed that the administration is "making a lot of progress on what is going to be a strategic breakthrough for the United States, which is to have a different kind of Middle East."

The key, Rice said, is to get Iraqi security forces trained sufficiently to fight the insurgency themselves. Reports from Iraq uniformly suggest that the training isn't going particularly well and that the administration has overstated the number of Iraqi security personnel who are actually able to fight. In a recent report on some of the U.S. troops assigned to train Iraqi soldiers, the Washington Post quoted a U.S. officer who said: "I know the party line. You know, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army, five-star generals, four-star generals, President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld: The Iraqis will be ready in whatever time period. But from the ground, I can say with certainty they won't be ready before I leave. And I know I'll be back in Iraq, probably in three or four years. And I don't think they'll be ready then."

Asked about those comments Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Rice gave an answer that seemed to illustrate the disconnect between the reality on the ground in Iraq and the fantasy views back in the White House. "Well, I'm not going to comment on the analysis of one single general," she said. "I'm going to tell you what the president sees in his briefing, what those of us on the National Security Council see in our briefings, and that is that there is progress being made in training the Iraqi security forces. . . ."

By Tim Grieve

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

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