For Bush on Iraq, the glass is always half full

News about the war and assessments from the field notwithstanding, the president says progress is being made.

Published October 5, 2005 6:55PM (EDT)

When we hear somebody use the words "on the one hand" and "on the other hand," we usually take it to mean that the speaker thinks that there are two sides to the story he's telling. But that's never how George W. Bush has approached the war in Iraq, and he's not about to start now. Offering up another glowing assessment from the Rose Garden today, the president had this to say about the war:

"On the one hand, we're making progress when it comes to training Iraqis to take the fight to the enemy, we're bringing the enemy to justice, we're on the offense. On the other hand, democracy is moving forward in a part of the world that is so desperate for democracy and so desperate for freedom."

See there? It's all good.

And it is -- unless you tune in to the news or listen to what the president's generals have to say. At least 25 people were killed and scores more were injured in Iraq today when a bomb exploded outside a Shiite mosque in Hillah, the latest in a series of attacks in the run-up to next week's vote on Iraq's draft constitution. The victims in today's attacks were mostly Shiite Iraqis gathered for the funeral of a man killed in an earlier attack, but Americans continue to die in Iraq, too. Ten U.S. soldiers have been killed in the first five days of October, pushing the total U.S death toll to 1,942.

What about efforts to stand up Iraqi forces? The president has said over and over again that getting Iraqis ready to fight for themselves is the ticket for bringing U.S. soldiers back home. Bush said today that progress is being made: The Iraqis, he said, "are showing more and more capability to take the fight to the enemy." Perhaps the president ought to compare notes with Gen. George Casey, his top military man in Iraq. Casey has said previously that three Iraqi battalions were capable of operating on their own, without the assistance of U.S. forces. But when he returned to Washington to testify before Congress last week, he said that he now considers only one Iraqi battalion fully capable. Doing damage control a day later, Casey insisted that he hadn't meant to suggest that the Iraqis were growing less capable; he said that the standards for evaluating them had changed.

Either way, Casey's assessment is a sign of how far the Americans and the Iraqis still have to go. A battalion consists of about 500 or 600 Iraqi soldiers. There are roughly 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq today.

By Tim Grieve

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

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