When White House spokeswoman Dana Perino appeared on Fox News this morning in a walk-up to the president's Iraq speech, Fox anchor Megyn Kelly played for her a video clip in which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that "every objective assessment" shows that the "surge" has "failed to bring the Iraqi government closer to political reconciliation."
Kelly beat Perino to the response: "Obviously," the Fox journalist said, "Sen. Reid does not consider Gen. Petraeus and ambassador Crocker to be an objective source, since he says something else is true from what they offered the U.S. Congress today."
Not that it was necessary, but Kelly then asked Perino for her reaction to what Reid had said.
"Well," Perino said, "I think it's unfortunate and regrettable that there are some people who have decided to look at Gen. Petraeus and ambassador Crocker as political operatives when they have been nothing but the most stalwart of citizens serving their country. The information that they provided was based on the facts on the ground."
Can we just rewind here for a moment? Although we understand that the White House thinks there's something to be gained in characterizing every criticism of the president's Iraq policy as an ad hominem attack on Petraeus and Crocker, what Reid said in the clip Kelly played for Perino isn't all that far from what Petraeus and Crocker have been saying themselves.
Yes, they put a slightly rosier spin on things than Reid did, but Petraeus and Crocker have said repeatedly that the "surge" hasn't prompted the political progress that they had hoped. In a letter to his troops last week, Petraeus said that he had hoped the Iraqis would make "tangible political progress at the national level" this summer, but that "it has not worked out as we had hoped." And while Crocker played up signs of local progress during his testimony before Congress this week, he conceded that the Iraqi government is "in many respects dysfunctional" and said that the "environment" in which a "meaningful discussion on national reconciliation can take place" is just now "developing." He said that discussion is what "needs to happen now," but he also acknowledged that he has no way to make it happen. "I wish there were clear-cut things that we could do to get them to do the things that result in national reconciliation, but there aren't."
Tell us again: Who's listening to the "facts on the ground"?
Kelly and Perino were just getting started. "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has accused the president of having us now on a 10-year plan to have troops in Iraq," Kelly told Perino. "Is that true?" Perino demurred, saying that Pelosi's claim is "not anything that the president said" and is "not what General Petraeus has said or ambassador Crocker has said." It was a narrow answer, but a false one anyway.
In an interview back in June, Fox's own Chris Wallace asked Petraeus whether he thought Iraq would require a military commitment like the one the United States made in Korea, "where we have had thousands of troops for decades." Petraeus' answer sure seemed to be "yes." He said that the "challenges" facing Iraq wouldn't be "resolved in a year or even two years," and that counterinsurgency operations "typically" and "historically" have lasted "at least nine of 10 years." "The question is, of course, at what level, how much will we have to continue to contribute during that time, how much more can the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government pick up as this goes along," he said. Whether the "right analogy" is Korea or something else, he said, it would be a "fairly realistic assessment" to say that "there is some possibility of some form of long-term security arrangement [in Iraq] over time."
But back to Kelly and Perino:
Kelly: So, Dana, I've got to go, but I want to ask you, you're about to take over for our good friend Tony Snow, who's leaving the White House as the White House press secretary. Are you excited? Are you ready?
Perino: I'm trying to get my head around it. I'm obviously not Tony Snow. He's an incredible person behind the podium and everyone's enjoyed having him here so much. So I think I have a lot of studying to do and I feel like I'm going to take a final every day for the rest of the administration.
Kelly: Big shoes to fill.
Kelly: But we look forward to watching you do it. Dana Perino, good luck and thanks so much.
Perino: Thanks. Thank you.