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AP: Bush’s view of Iraq doesn’t square with reality

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Bush’s view of Iraq doesn’t square with reality

Iraq’s capabilities, American support fall short of confident assessments


By Calvin Woodward

Updated: 8:10 p.m. ET Nov. 30, 2005

WASHINGTON - President Bush’s depiction of Iraqi security forces as “helping to turn the tide” is difficult to square with persistent setbacks in handing control of the country back to its own people.

His suggestion that Americans are solidly behind the mission also understates opposition at home, and his hard sell on the rising quality of Iraqi forces overlooks complexities on the ground.

Bush on Wednesday declared the Iraqi army and police forces are “increasingly taking the lead in the fight against the terrorists,” even as recruits patrol Iraq’s most violent cities barely three months after learning how to use weapons and police forces struggle to get officers to come to work.

The president, in a major speech on Iraq war aims and in an accompanying strategy paper, acknowledged all has not gone as planned, speaking several times of a need for “adjustments” along the way.

Still, the White House paper cited a number of positive statistics on the recovery of the Iraq economy, asserting “our restore, reform, build strategy is achieving results.”

A more sober view

The International Monetary Fund, in its latest World Economic Outlook, in September, issued a more sobering view.

“The new government faces daunting medium-term challenges, including advancing the reconstruction of the country’s infrastructure, reducing macroeconomic instability and developing the institutions that can support a market-based economy,” the survey stated.

The IMF staff cited a “volatile security situation” as one of the biggest challenges and said only “slow progress” had been made in restoring Iraq oil production to prewar levels.

Bush, making his remarks at the U.S. Naval Academy, spoke as if the debate about Iraq were limited to Washington and only politicians were questioning the mission.

“When you’re risking your life to accomplish a mission, the last thing you want to hear is that mission being questioned in our nation’s capital,” he told cadets. “I want you to know that, while there may be a lot of heated rhetoric in Washington, D.C., one thing is not in dispute: The American people stand behind you.”

Bush’s public standing and support for the war have declined. In an AP-Ipsos poll taken in November, 62 percent said they disapproved of his Iraq policy, and his overall job approval rating dropped to 37 percent, the lowest level of his presidency.

The battle to build Iraq's military

The president spoke of “an increased focus on leadership training” to build a core of midlevel and higher ranking officers needed to guide and lead an Iraqi force that can operate on its own.

It takes years to develop a strong officer corps, and the process has been a particular struggle in Iraq. The deficiency was highlighted recently when Iraqis put out a call for more former officers from Saddam Hussein’s army to rejoin the armed forces. Bush did caution it would take “time and patience” to train enough Iraqi forces to carry the fight.

“As the Iraqi forces grow in number, they’re helping to keep a better hold on the cities taken from the enemy,” he said.

Indeed, large Shiite cities in the south now are largely controlled by Iraqi forces. But throughout central and northern Iraq, cities that are either Sunni Arab or ethnically or religiously mixed have proved more difficult to stabilize.

In Samarra, only 100 of the 700 police on the city payroll are showing up for work most days, even as U.S. soldiers prepare this week to turn over control of the inner city to Iraqi forces. The Americans tried twice before to do that in the city of 200,000 but failed when insurgents moved against police.

As he did before the invasion, Bush tied Iraq to terrorism, to make the case that a stable Iraq would make for a safer America.

He declared, “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.”

Iraq was not, however, the terrorists’ chosen battlefield until Saddam was defeated and extremists poured across unsecured borders.

© 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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I guess this is why Bush said we can't leave right away and need to wait till its done?

By Suzanne M. Fournier

Gulf Region South

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

TALLIL, Iraq, Dec. 1, 2005 — Workers have modernized 28 railroad stations in the Iraq's southern provinces, starting at Iskandariyah Station in Northern Babil, just south of Baghdad, and reaching south into Thi-Qar province.

Residents living in Babil, Qadisiyah, Muthana and parts of Thi Qar provinces can now catch the train at their local train station and travel to destinations within the region, boarding and exiting at clean, safe, healthy, remodeled railroad stations. Workers have performed numerous tasks at the southern province rail stations such as repairing, plastering, painting and restoring electricity, water and toilets.

Thi-Qar has two of nine renovations completed. Thi-Qar and Basrah Province rail stations are scheduled to have renovations finished by spring of next year.

Rail station renovations provide community residents with safe and healthy access to the rail transportation system. Passengers can use the stations to access travel within their local area and eventually to travel throughout Iraq and destinations beyond.

Local businesses can now use the renovated rail stations to ship and receive commodities by scheduling freight movement with their local stationmaster. This will make it easier for business professionals and farmers to ship their products to regional and global markets.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the rail station renovations by using Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Funds.

The existing railroad stations were neglected for decades and previously were in unsafe, unsanitary and unprofessional condition. The renovation work began with cleaning, removing garbage and demolishing unsafe structures. Then, terrazzo floor tiles were replaced, plaster was repaired, walls were painted, ceramic tile added to bathrooms, new windows and screens, septic and water systems were replaced, electricity was upgraded and backup generators were installed to provide completely refurbished railroad stations.

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The title leads one to believe the article will give an expansive point-by-point repudiation of the President's claims. What is does instead is offer a few isolated examples to the contrary, begrudgingly acknowledges some of Bush's points and makes a personal valuative judgement, which seems largely predetermined. Not really "analysis," so much as opinion.

Plus, he claims Bush underestimates opposition to the mission at home, yet a poll out yesterday shows a majority of Americans feel the pull out should be tied to the acheivement of benchmarks, exactly the President's plan.

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The title leads one to believe the article will give an expansive point-by-point repudiation of the President's claims. What is does instead is offer a few isolated examples to the contrary, begrudgingly acknowledges some of Bush's points and makes a personal valuative judgement, which seems largely predetermined. Not really "analysis," so much as opinion.

Plus, he claims Bush underestimates opposition to the mission at home, yet a poll out yesterday shows a majority of Americans feel the pull out should be tied to the acheivement of benchmarks, exactly the President's plan.

I didn't get that from the title, but clearly the article is one man's opinion.

And "exactly the President's plan"? That's really excellent spin. Scott McClellan couldn’t have said it any better. Apparently, the plan was to have no plan until the congress demanded to know if one even existed. If you are referring to the recent Gallup poll, then yes, a "solid majority rejects setting a fixed timetable for withdrawal". But you conveniently left out the part that shows a majority of Americans also do not believe that the Bush plan will lead to victory.

Oh, did I mention that his approval rating is one of the lowest ever, at around 34%, according to the ultra-conservative WSJ?

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Gee who would have thought rebuilding a country from the ground up would be hard?

Its really too bad that America stopped having the backbone for this kind of thing in 1945. We used to be really, really badass.

This is so short-sighted it really doesn't deserve a response, but what the hell, it's Friday.

Don't compare WWII to this fabricated war in Iraq. It's not even in the same ballpark. We're still "badass", to paraphrase your authoritative breakdown, it's just that the current leadership is incompetent. Maybe if Bush had actually shown up to his cushy Guard duty while he was dodging Vietnam, he might know something about military planning. Maybe if Cheney or Rumsfeld had ever seen combat, they might know how to handle an armed conflict.

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Here's a related article from the WSJ:




What, Me Worry?

Bush Abandons

Alfred E. Neuman

December 2, 2005; Page A10

George Bush may be the feistiest president since Teddy Roosevelt. Dubya looks like the kind of guy who'd get in your face real fast if he weren't wound so tight behind that presidential reserve. So why, until this week, has he allowed himself to get beaten to a pulp on the Iraq war?

One of the great mysteries of public life has been the absence of an organized Bush effort to defend the war. To the extent there has been bad news and worse spin about the war's course, both the Bush White House and Defense Department have been pretty much willing to take it in the neck. Prior to this week's Annapolis speech and the release of a 38-page "Iraq national strategy," senior staffers at both the White House and Defense have privately vented frustration and even bitterness at the absence or incompetence of what is known as the war's "public diplomacy." Similarly, there's been no real effort to build a homefront to support the troops.

The war isn't unique. In November, opinion-poll approval of Mr. Bush's economic management was below 40%. This is astounding. As the Review & Outlook columns noted yesterday, this week's revised third-quarter growth rate of 4.3% was the 10th straight quarter of growth averaging nearly 4% on an annual basis. Economic "public diplomacy" is part of a Treasury secretary's portfolio. Jim Baker in the second Reagan term and Bob Rubin across two Clinton terms relentlessly promoted their boss's economic policies. On Wednesday, Treasury printed out a supportive statement over Secretary John Snow's name; yesterday the secretary was in London -- discussing European growth. Running a 4.3% quarter in the face of Katrina is shout-from-the-rooftop news, but for this administration it's just another tree falling in the forest.

This is the Alfred E. Neuman, "What, me worry?" school of public relations. It doesn't seem quite appropriate for a major war.

I don't think the Bushies are numb to seeing their public standing dissed and downgraded. I think they've concluded this is a game that's rigged against them, something over which they have little control. Other presidencies -- Nixon, Johnson -- obsessed over their bad press. LBJ by legend watched the evening news about Vietnam simultaneously on three TVs, a ticket to neurosis and night sweats.

In contrast, the Bush media model has been to ignore the polls, skip the spin and govern for results. Mr. Bush's bet is that history will judge Iraq a success; the odds now suggest he's right. And if one believes in markets, as Mr. Bush largely does, sustained 4% growth is a better day's work than, like his predecessor, trying to govern to the polls.

For this White House, the mainstream media's spin is like bad weather -- uncontrollable. The polls, like the bad-weather blahs, don't matter. But clinical depression does matter and the polls now reflect clinical depression. Even the president's conservative base can't snap out of it. Consider the reality standing before a movement conservative: Sen. Joe Lieberman's essay on this page earlier in the week argued compellingly that Iraq is much better than imagined. The economic growth numbers validate tax-cut theory, and they're getting pinch-me-if-it's-real justices in John Roberts and Sam Alito. And they're depressed!

A visit to our editorial offices this week by about 40 conservative think-tank leaders revealed almost universal gloom and even distrust of the president -- primarily over years of pig-out spending. Not one of them uttered the word "Iraq."

When positive reality becomes irrelevant, you've got the blues. Or perhaps we have discovered a new form of brainwashing.

The Bush administration has underestimated the changed nature of modern media. The mainstream media alone is not the problem. All these political subjects -- the war, immigration -- get discussed at length, all the time, on talk shows and across the great expanses of the Web wilderness. In this new environment, the emotional content has become stronger and even more important than the facts, such as they are. The facts have been demoted. What's more, the language, the very vocabulary of all these conversations, has been ramped way up. Shrillness has monetary value now, and it has political value. If this were traditional spin, as the White House assumes, it wouldn't matter. But in our time the spin has become a vortex.

The leading exploiter of this phenomenon is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Despite the comparatively minimal numbers killed, his suicide bombers and car bombs have dispirited even normally clear-eyed supporters of the war effort and its purpose. Conservative columnists go from support for Iraq to advocating withdrawal and back to support depending on mood swings. Iraq has become simply "the violence." But if "the violence" has displaced the rest of reality, then the Bush model of ignoring the spin isn't viable. The result is John Murtha.

By not seeing that the spin is now a vortex, the White House let it suck down the president's support to a level that threatens his ability to govern.

Past need not be prologue. Under the old model, Mr. Bush nominated Harriet Miers and let the world scream. But there is a crucial difference between not caring what the MSM thinks and not listening to one's own party. Mr. Bush heard and changed the nomination. A legendary stubbornness, apparently, will not beget self-destruction. Now we have the Iraq counteroffensive in the opinion wars. Both the Washington Post and the New York Times followed the Annapolis speech with refutation articles (amusingly titled "Fact Check" in the Times). Fine. Now the MSM is reacting to the president's agenda rather than shaping it.

So far nearly all the recent addresses by Messrs. Bush and Cheney have been in front of military audiences or applause-prone conservative groups. The Green Zone is in Baghdad, not in the U.S. In the 2004 campaign Karl Rove sent Mr. Bush into an undiscovered America of right-leaning exurbs and edge cities such as Clermont County, east of Cincinnati. This is the real Bush base. The president should revisit it, to explain in person what he told the Middies at Annapolis -- why he has taken them to Iraq and why we intend to see this through to an honorable victory.


Daniel Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. Mr. Henninger joined Dow Jones in 1971 as a staff writer for the National Observer. He became an editorial-page writer for the Journal in 1977, arts editor in 1978 and editorial features editor in 1980. He was appointed assistant editor of the editorial page in 1983 and chief editorial writer and senior assistant editor in October 1986, with daily responsibility for the "Review & Outlook" columns. In November 1989 he became deputy editor of the editorial page.

Mr. Henninger was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing in 1987 and 1996, and shared in the Journal's Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the paper's coverage of the attacks on September 11. He won the Gerald Loeb Award for commentary in 1985. In 1998 he received the Scripps Howard Foundation's Walker Stone Award for editorial writing, for editorials on a range of issues, including the International Monetary Fund, presidential politics and cloning. He won the 1995 American Society of Newspaper Editors' Distinguished Writing Award for editorial writing, and he was a finalist in that award in 1985, 1986 and 1993. A native of Cleveland, Mr. Henninger graduated from Georgetown University with a bachelor's degree from the School of Foreign Service.

Mr. Henninger invites comments to henninger@wsj.com1.

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