Out of Touch on Iraq

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, May 24, 2006; 12:51 PM

President Bush's exclusive focus on suicide bombers -- "suiciders," in his parlance -- when asked about violence in Iraq yesterday once again suggests that he lacks a realistic sense of the current state of chaos in that country.

"That's the -- but that's one of the main -- that's the main weapon of the enemy, the capacity to destroy innocent life with a suicider," Bush said yesterday in a brief public appearance with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Suicide bombings in Iraq do sometimes result in dramatic death tolls. And their aftereffects tend to show up more often in television footage than, say, the carnage wrought by secretive death squads.

But they're hardly the main weapon afflicting either U.S. soldiers or civilians in Iraq today.

As anyone who monitors the situation in Iraq knows, a vastly greater threat to the 133,000 U.S. troops currently stationed there is posed by improvised explosive devices left along roadsides and elsewhere -- and, to a lesser degree, by gunfire and mortar fire from armed insurgents trying very much to stay alive.

And as far as Iraqi civilians are concerned, the primary security threat these days comes from paramilitary forces committing widespread sectarian murder, unimpeded by anyone in authority.

Reliable statistics are hard to come by, but ask people with first-hand experience in Iraq, and they'll most likely tell you that Bush's emphasis on suicide bombings is at best way out of date, and at worst an example of his utter cluelessness.

Was Bush being accidentally or intentionally ignorant? It's hard to know for sure.

One possible explanation for his comments is that the current White House narrative, supported by its endlessly repeated talking points, is that the terrorists in Iraq are fighting a battle for American public opinion -- and their horrific acts of violence are intended to " break our will ."

In that context, major suicide attacks may be one of their more effective devices, because they do occasionally show up on the news. The more omnipresent horrors that produce the endless, daily death toll of U.S. soldiers and Iraqis are in fact almost never depicted on television, even though they represent a far greater tragedy.

So if Bush is more focused on the battle for public opinion than the situation on the ground, his comments make a certain amount of sense.

Why No Coverage?

Another question that Bush's comments yesterday raised in my mind: Where was the media coverage? Why did reporters give Bush a pass on this one?

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