Whose Report Is It, Anyway?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, August 16, 2007; 12:26 PM

The "Petraeus Report" -- the supposedly trustworthy mid-September reckoning of military and political progress in Iraq by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker -- is instead looking more like a White House con job in the making.

The Bush administration has been trying for months to restore its credibility on Iraq (as well as stall for time) by focusing on Petraeus -- President Bush's "main man" in Iraq -- and his report to Congress. But now it turns out it that White House aides will actually write the "Petraeus Report," not the general himself.

And although Petraeus has a long history of literally and figuratively playing the good soldier for Bush, it appears that the president still doesn't trust him enough to stay on message under the congressional klieg lights.

Julian E. Barnes and Peter Spiegel wrote in yesterday's Los Angeles Times: "Despite Bush's repeated statements that the report will reflect evaluations by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, administration officials said it would actually be written by the White House, with inputs from officials throughout the government."

(The precedent for that sort of process is not good. Barnes and Spiegel noted that during internal White House discussion of a July interim report, some officials wanted to claim progress in areas where there was no credible evidence to support such claims.)

In today's Washington Post, Jonathan Weisman and Karen DeYoung write: "Senior congressional aides said yesterday that the White House has proposed limiting the much-anticipated appearance on Capitol Hill next month of Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker to a private congressional briefing, suggesting instead that the Bush administration's progress report on the Iraq war should be delivered to Congress by the secretaries of state and defense.

"White House officials did not deny making the proposal in informal talks with Congress, but they said yesterday that they will not shield the commanding general in Iraq and the senior U.S. diplomat there from public congressional testimony required by the war-funding legislation President Bush signed in May. 'The administration plans to follow the requirements of the legislation,' National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in response to questions yesterday. . . .

"The legislation says that Petraeus and Crocker 'will be made available to testify in open and closed sessions before the relevant committees of the Congress' before the delivery of the report. It also clearly states that the president 'will prepare the report and submit the report to Congress' after consultation with the secretaries of state and defense and with the top U.S. military commander in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador.

"But both the White House and Congress have widely described the assessment as coming from Petraeus. Bush has repeatedly referred to the general as the one who will be delivering the report in September and has implored the public and Republicans in Congress to withhold judgment until then. . . .

"'Americans deserve an even-handed assessment of conditions in Iraq. Sadly, we will only receive a snapshot from the same people who told us the mission was accomplished and the insurgency was in its last throes,' warned House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.)."

The Credibility Gap

On May 8, in a remarkably blunt session with Bush at the White House, a group of House Republican moderates warned the president that his pursuit of the war in Iraq was risking the future of the Republican Party and that he could not count on GOP support for many more months. (See my May 10 column.)

NBC's Tim Russert's reported that one Republican congressman told Bush: "The word about the war and its progress cannot come from the White House or even you, Mr. President. There's no longer any credibility. It has to come from Gen. Petraeus."

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