Cherry-picking and sugarcoating

The president announces his "new" new way forward in Iraq.

By Tim Grieve
Published September 14, 2007 7:01AM (UTC)
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Give the president credit for this: As he laid out his strategy for Iraq Thursday night, he managed to avoid accusing Democrats of undercutting the troops, and he invoked memories of 9/11 only once.

The rest of our report card: Not so good.

From the start to the finish of his live-from-the-Oval Office, "Can we all just get along" presentation, George W. Bush cherry-picked and then sugarcoated many of the "facts" he presented about the state of affairs in Iraq. Maybe the president didn't lie, exactly, but he didn't really tell the full truth, either.


The highlights, such as they were:

Bush: "In Iraq, an ally of the United States is fighting for its survival ... This ally has placed its trust in the United States."

Reality: Only 18 percent of Iraqis say that U.S. forces are improving security in their country, according to an ABC/BBC/NHK poll taken this week. Fifty-seven percent of the Iraqis polled say they consider attacks on U.S. troops "acceptable," and a plurality -- 47 percent -- say they want all U.S. troops out of their country immediately.


Bush: "The goal of the surge is to provide that security and to help prepare Iraqi forces to maintain it. As I will explain tonight, our success in meeting these objectives now allows us to begin bringing some of our troops home."

Reality: As we've noted previously, the current 15-month limit on troop deployments would have required the withdrawal of "surge" forces to begin this spring regardless of how the "surge" was going. Gen. David Petraeus says his plan will have some troops home slightly ahead of the rotation-driven deadline -- and that he "could have" asked for more troops if he thought he needed them -- but even he acknowledges that he "very much [had] in mind the strain and stress that has been placed on our ground forces, in particular, as one of the considerations that was factored into the calculations."

Bush: "Gen. Petraeus and ambassador Crocker report that the success in Anbar province is beginning to be replicated in other parts of the country."


Reality: When Petraeus appeared Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain tried to get him to rebut the argument that the "success" in Anbar can't be replicated elsewhere in Iraq because Anbar is "strictly Sunni." Petraeus demurred. "Sir," he said, "it can't be replicated exactly except, of course, in locations that are exactly Sunni Arab." At another point in his testimony, Petraeus said that Anbar shows that "dramatic change in security is possible with the support and participation of local citizens," but that "Anbar's model cannot be replicated everywhere in Iraq." When John Kerry asked Crocker if the Anbar model could be "replicated" elsewhere, he said: "No, it can't be done so in a cookie-cutter fashion," but he said that he's seeing "some of the same phenomenon" in Diyala.

Bush: "Today, most of Baghdad's neighborhoods are being patrolled by coalition and Iraqi forces who live among the people they protect. Many schools and markets are reopening. Citizens are coming forward with vital intelligence. Sectarian killings are down. And ordinary life is beginning to return."


Reality: Sen. Joe Biden asked Petraeus this week whether "a Sunni Arab" can "travel safely to a Shia neighborhood in Baghdad today without fear of being kidnapped or killed." "It depends on the neighborhood," Petraeus said.

Bush: "The government has not met its own legislative benchmarks -- and in my meetings with Iraqi leaders, I have made it clear that they must."

Reality: The president has been "making that clear" to the Iraqis since the surge began. "America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced," Bush declared as he announced the surge back in January. When the Iraqis hadn't made any progress by May, Dick Cheney flew to Baghdad, gave them an earful and came out declaring that he sensed "a greater sense of urgency" to get things done. Two months later, having accomplished virtually nothing in the meantime, the Iraqi parliament took a monthlong vacation.


Bush: "According to Gen. Petraeus and a panel chaired by retired Gen. Jim Jones, the Iraqi army is becoming more capable, although there is still a great deal of work to be done to improve the national police."

Reality: While it's true that Jones' Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq said that the Iraqi Army is making measurable progress, the commission also said that the army would be "unable to fulfill [its] essential security responsibilities independently over the next 12-18 months." As for the national police? The commission didn't say that there's a "great deal of work to be done"; it said that the force is so rife with corruption and sectarianism that it should be disbanded.

Bush: "We thank the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq and the many others who are helping that young democracy."


Reality: There are approximately 165,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq today. According to the latest Iraq Weekly Status Report produced by the U.S. State Department, other countries are contributing 11,685 additional troops. Approximately 5,500 of those are British, 1,500 more are Australian, and about 1,200 are South Korean. That means the president's remaining 32 countries are contributing about 3,500 soldiers combined.

Tim Grieve

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

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