The math is fuzzy, but Bush knows the answer

As the Pentagon manipulates the body count, Bush wants a Democratic successor to feel obliged to continue his Iraq plan.

By Tim Grieve
Published September 25, 2007 4:50PM (UTC)
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When Gen. David Petraeus testified before Congress earlier this month, he touted what he said were declines in sectarian violence in Iraq. His unequivocal conclusions didn't square with those delivered by the Government Accountability Office, which said that it was "unclear" whether sectarian violence had dropped. And now one of Petraeus' men is acknowledging that the numbers from Iraq, while on a generally positive trend, are pretty much whatever you decide to make of them.

"Everybody has their own way of doing it," chief warrant officer Dan Macomber, the head of the Pentagon's dead-civilian counting team, tells the Washington Post. "If you and I ... pulled from the same database, and I pulled one day and you pulled the next, we would have totally different numbers."

The Post provides one example of the seemingly arbitrary system Macomber and his team use for deciding what is a sectarian killing and what's plain old garden-variety crime. One day this month, four Iraqis were found dead of gunshot wounds on a Baghdad street. A couple of days later, another man was found dead -- a bullet in his head -- on another Baghdad street. That man was declared a victim of sectarian violence; the four others were not. In the Pentagon's eyes, that single bullet to the head indicated something more calculated -- and hence "sectarian" -- while the gunshot wounds to the men did not.

If it all seems a little, well, "unclear," the president has a message for you: Get used to it. White House chief of staff Josh Bolten tells journalist Bill Sammon that George W. Bush is advising presidential candidates not to commit themselves to antiwar positions because he thinks his successor is going to need to stay the course -- Bush's course -- after the election.

Bolten says that Bush, through aides, has been urging Democratic candidates, "Don't get yourself too locked in where you stand right now. If you end up sitting where I sit, things could change dramatically."

Bush wants to "create the conditions," Bolten says, in which a Democrat "not only will have the leeway, but the obligation to see [his course] out."

Tim Grieve

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

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