Bush twists the facts on Iraq

In remarks Tuesday, the president couldn't seem to keep his chronology of the war straight, and gave -- again -- a misleading explanation of ongoing troop withdrawals.

By Alex Koppelman
Published March 11, 2008 10:04PM (EDT)

Just over a year ago, things were not going well in Iraq. Terrorists and extremists were succeeding in their efforts to plunge Iraq into chaos. American peace and security required us to defeat this enemy, just as I said. So my administration reviewed our strategy, and changed course with victory in mind. I sent reinforcements into Iraq in a dramatic policy that's now being called "the surge" ...

The Iraqi people saw these efforts; they had renewed faith in America's commitment to the fight. As you can imagine, during that period of time a lot of folks were wondering, is America going to stay with us? Do they understand our deep desire to live in freedom? Can we count on them? And when they found out they could, they launched a surge of their own. Increasing numbers of Sunni leaders have turned against the terrorists and begun to reclaim their communities ... Folks who were involved in the insurgency have now decided they want to be a part of their government ...

I strongly believe the surge is working, and so do the Iraqis.

And as a return on our success -- in other words, as we get more successful, troops are able to come home. They're not coming home based upon defeat, or based upon opinion polls, or based upon focus groups, or based upon politics. They're coming home because we're successful.

That's President Bush, speaking to the National Religious Broadcasters association on Tuesday. In just that excerpt, Bush made two major misrepresentations.

First, Bush's chronology implies that the "surge of their own" he refers to -- the "Anbar Awakening" -- happened after the U.S. troop surge began at the beginning of last year. In fact, Sunni actions against al-Qaida in Iraq predated the surge. Two years before that, Bush had rejected overtures of similar assistance from Sunni leaders.

Second, Bush attributed the withdrawal of some U.S. troops from Iraq to "a return on our success," as he has before. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I've pointed out several times now that success has little, if anything, to do with the withdrawals -- they were necessitated by a military stretched to its breaking point by the surge. In an article I wrote when Bush first announced the withdrawals in September of last year, I noted previous comments to that effect made by Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, and Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

Petraeus himself conceded that the surge had definite time limits long before he appeared on Capitol Hill to tout the surge's success earlier this week. A month and a half ago, on July 29, U.S. News' Paul Bedard reported that Petraeus "is telling surge troops that they will not be kept past their 15-month tours. That means the troop drawdown could begin in April, when the first troops in the surge will reach their 15th month on the ground. Officials say that all of the surge brigades reach their 15th month by August 2008."

Petraeus appeared the next day on ABC's "Good Morning America," where, in an interview with Diane Sawyer, he said, "We know that the surge has to come to an end ... General Odierno and I have -- are on the record telling our soldiers that we will not ask for any extension certainly beyond 15 months."

In his confirmation hearings, Mullen himself specifically agreed with Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., when Reed said, "This notion that we're going to have an unlimited opportunity to keep forces there at this level, that we're only going to take forces down based upon General Petraeus' suggestion that things are OK now is, I think, fully rebutted by the force structure."

"I think that's fair, Senator," Mullen responded.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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