A Ludicrous Attempt at Spin

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, February 22, 2007; 12:32 PM

After laboring so hard to bring a modicum of realism to its pronouncements on Iraq -- think of President Bush repeatedly acknowledging that he's not happy with the situation there -- the White House took a big PR hit yesterday as its attempt to spin the British troop-withdrawal announcement as a sign of success was widely greeted with howls of derision.

Unlike some of the White House's past assertions -- that were simply negated by the facts -- this one was affirmatively laughable. It would be Orwellian, but only if anyone took it seriously.

Remember how Bush once ascribed Vice President Cheney's unsupported assertions of progress in Iraq to Cheney's "half-glass-full" mentality? Cheney and others are watching as water is pouring out of the glass, and saying the glass is getting fuller.

There's really not much question that British Prime Minister Tony Blair's announcement was a major blow to the White House's political strategy. Blair, whose devotion to Bush earned him the sobriquet "Bush's poodle," is doing precisely what the increasingly bipartisan collection of war critics is pressuring Bush to do: Bow to the national will, start withdrawal, and in the meantime move troops out of their deeply unpopular role as occupiers.

Support for the White House view of Blair's announcement came from all across the world yesterday -- from Belgium, Japan, Germany and Washington. But that's because national security adviser Stephen Hadley was in Brussels, Vice President Cheney was in Tokyo, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in Berlin, and a few White House aides were sent out to deal with the media.

The Coverage

Jonathan Weisman and Peter Baker write in The Washington Post: "As the British announced the beginning of their departure from Iraq yesterday, President Bush's top foreign policy aide proclaimed it 'basically a good-news story.' Yet for an already besieged White House, the decision was doing a good job masquerading as a bad-news story.

"What national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley meant was that the British believe they have made enough progress in southern Iraq to turn over more of their sector to Iraqi forces. To many back in Washington, though, what resonated was that Bush's main partner in Iraq is starting to get out just as the president is sending in more U.S. troops.

"No matter the military merits, the British move, followed by a similar announcement by Denmark, roiled the political debate in Washington at perhaps the worst moment for the White House. Democrats seized on the news as evidence that Bush's international coalition is collapsing and that the United States is increasingly alone in a losing cause. Even some Republicans, and, in private, White House aides, agreed that the announcement sent an ill-timed message to the American public."

How effective was a full day of White House spin on the press corps? For once, not effective at all.

Here's Ed Henry on CNN at 9 a.m.: "You know, this is a blow to the White House no matter how they try to play this."

And here's Suzanne Malveaux on CNN eight hours later: "On the political side, it's a blow to President Bush, who has repeatedly said setting timetables for withdrawing troops would only embolden the terrorists.

"While Mr. Bush is trying to convince the American people the war is worth it, the perception is his closest allies have concluded otherwise. . . .

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