Fact-Checking the President

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, December 1, 2005; 12:36 PM

Let's hear it for the fact-checkers.

The Washington Post

Robin Wright writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush's 'strategy for victory' catalogues progress in Iraq over the past 32 months, but also omits or glosses over complications, problems and uncertainties in the most ambitious U.S. military intervention since Vietnam.

"Analysts agreed with Bush that a politically motivated withdrawal could embolden extremists to believe the United States will 'cut and run in the face of adversity'-- and risk the implosion of a strategic oil-rich country. But they disagreed with key assessments made by the administration on Iraq's military, on how important the U.S. mission in Iraq is to promoting democracy in the broader Middle East, and how much of Iraq has been rebuilt.

"Little is new in the 35-page document, titled 'National Strategy for Victory in Iraq,' which covers three broad fronts: security, political development and economic issues. The interpretation it yields depends heavily on viewing the glass half-full rather than half-empty -- and doing so in defiance of daily suicide bombings, abductions or deaths."

The New York Times

Eric Schmitt writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Bush, like other officials, repeatedly said that Iraqi soldiers or police now 'control' swaths of Baghdad, as well as central Iraqi cities like Najaf and Karbala. 'Other Iraqi battalions and brigades control hundreds of square miles of territory in other Iraqi provinces,' declared the strategy paper released before the speech.

"But leaving aside the fact that Iraq comprises more than 160,000 square miles (much of it thinly populated), the areas said to be under Iraqi control are still wracked by violence, much of it aimed at Iraqi security forces."

And, Schmitt notes: "In Najaf and Karbala, the Iraqi security forces are totally made up of militiamen loyal to Shiite political leaders like Moktada al-Sadr. President Bush's strategy document explicitly warned against this approach to security."

USA Today

"Optimism and other assessments at odds," reads the headline over Matt Kelley, Steven Komarow and Jim Drinkard's story in USA Today.

While Bush "acknowledged some of the challenges that lie ahead in his speech and written plan, critics say the picture Bush painted was missing crucial elements: the ethnic divisions that pose daunting roadblocks to his ideal of a unified democracy; the slow pace of creating military and police units that can operate independently; the resentment engendered by the continuing U.S. presence in Iraq; and an economy hampered by lack of security and by devastated electric and water systems. . . .

" 'The terrorists have made it clear that Iraq is the central front in their war against humanity, and so we must recognize Iraq as the central front in the war on terror,' he said.

"But the president did not mention that al-Qaeda and its allies were drawn to Iraq after the U.S. invaded the country and, in the view of some, underplayed the U.S. presence as a provocation.

" 'Polling data shows the vast majority of the Iraqi people resent being occupied by a foreign military,' says Charles Pena, a conservative defense analyst and critic of Bush's Iraq policies."

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