Tuesday, March 21, 2006

# Posted 9:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BUSH DEFENDS HIS OPTIMISM: You know what I've said about Cheney and Rumsfeld's analysis. So what about the Commander-in-Chief? Much, much better. In Cleveland, the President said that:
In the face of continued reports about killings and reprisals, I understand how some Americans have had their confidence shaken. Others look at the violence they see each night on their television screens, and they wonder how I can remain so optimistic about the prospects of success in Iraq. They wonder what I see that they don't. So today I'd like to share a concrete example of progress in Iraq that most Americans do not see every day in their newspapers and on their television screens. I'm going to tell you the story of a northern Iraqi city called Tal Afar, which was once a key base of operations for al Qaeda and is today a free city that gives reason for hope for a free Iraq.
And the president went on to tell that story, very persuasively. He did not speak about the insurgents' "desperation" or invoke unhelpful analogies between Iraq and Nazi Germany. Instead, he made the case for how Americans and Iraqis working together can beat the insurgents.

The President also made a concerted effort to acknowledge his mistakes, a sort of mea culpa journalists have long been waiting for:
Unfortunately, in 2004 the local security forces there in Tal Afar weren't able to maintain order, and so the terrorists and the insurgents eventually moved back into the town [after the first Coalition offensive]...By November 2004, two months after our operation to clear the city, the terrorists had returned to continue their brutal campaign of intimidation...

The ability of al Qaeda and its associates to retake Tal Afar was an example of something we saw elsewhere in Iraq. We recognized the problem, and we changed our strategy. Instead of coming in and removing the terrorists, and then moving on, the Iraqi government and the coalition adopted a new approach called clear, hold, and build.
I agree that the new strategy represents a significant improvement. But it is also interesting to note the President's assertion that the old strategy was still in place -- and failing -- in November 2004. The same month Bush was re-elected.

I don't recall from that time much talk of a failed strategy. Interestingly, public approval of the President's strategy was much greater back in November 2004.

The impact of the new strategy on Tal Afar has been clear:
The recent elections show us how Iraqis respond when they know they're safe. Tal Afar is the largest city in Western Nineveh Province. In the elections held in January 2005, of about 190,000 registered voters, only 32,000 people went to the polls. Only Fallujah had a lower participation rate. By the time of the October referendum on the constitution and the December elections, Iraqi and coalition forces had secured Tal Afar and surrounding areas. The number of registered voters rose to about 204,000 -- and more than 175,000 turned out to vote in each election, more than 85 percent of the eligible voters in Western Nineva Province. These citizens turned out because they were determined to have a say in their nation's future, and they cast their ballots at polling stations that were guarded and secured by fellow Iraqis.
On the front page of this morning's paper, the WaPo ran a story entitled An Iraq Success Story's Sad New Chapter. I don't think I need to tell you how that story spins the situation in Tal Afar.

True, the President didn't go out of his way, as the Post did, to find what may still be going wrong in Tal Afar. But the Post ignored the impressive evidence the President marshalled to demonstrate Tal Afar's success, e.g. the voting statistics cited above. And remember, this was not an "analysis" or an opinion column. This was a straight news article that barely told the administration's side of the story.

Bush, of course, insisted that the media has ignored success stories such as Tal Afar. I must admit I'm curious. What has been written about Tal Afar? I often read reports from regional cities such as Kirkuk, Mosul or Tal Afar. But they all blend together in my memory. I wouldn't be surprised, however, if some of OxBlog's intrepid readers have been following such issues more carefully and will be able to provide some enlightment in the comments section.

The President did admit that all of Iraq is not Tal Afar. He stated that:
I wish I could tell you that the progress made in Tal Afar is the same in every single part of Iraq. It's not.
No, no it isn't.
Freedom will prevail in Iraq; freedom will prevail in the Middle East; and as the hope of freedom spreads to nations that have not known it, these countries will become allies in the cause of peace.
Sometimes I wonder if me and W. are the only ones who actually believe that. It won't come soon and it won't come easily, but it will.

After the speech, Bush took a fair number of questions from the audience. A lot of softballs and a few challenges. His tone and his message were consistent with his prepared remarks.

Today, Bush took another round of questions at a White House press conference. Once again he was careful and never strayed into untenable assertions of triumph and progress.

Bush said there would be no "complete withdrawal" while he is President. No declaring victory and then going home. And then on January 20, 2009?
(6) opinions -- Add your opinion

I don't recall from that time much talk of a failed strategy.

Funny, you were at the Convention in July, weren't you?
"This was a straight news article [in WaPo] that barely told the administration's side of the story."

You sound as though you think they *should* have told the administration's side of the story. Why, precisely?

I thought a good reporter should go to the scene, find out what happened, and report it. Period. And if that reporting differs wildly from what the administration is telling us, well, there's a message there, but it is not what you seem to be implying.
Why, precisely? Because Bush put forward a lot of evidence that the Post's correspondent simply ignored.

So I'm not disagreeing with you that reporters have the prerogrative to just report what they see (although that's easier said than done).

I'm saying a side of the story with merit was ignored, apparently because of an impulse to describe only the shortcomings of the White House perspective.

Also, mind you, there are pervasive accusations on the left that papers report both sides of the story regardless of their merit. This is one more instance (of many I have pointed out) in which the exact opposite is true.
Well, Dave, it is obvious that the reporter didn't see the evidence that the President put forth. There are at least two explanations for this:

1) The evidence really isn't there;

2) The reporter is a typical blinkered liberal.

I regard the first explanation as far more likely, simply because it coincides better with the huge quantities of other evidence that Iraq is, basically, going to Hell in a handbasket.

But the second explanation could be true also. This isn't an either/or situation.

Regarding your other point, about reporters covering both sides regardless of merit, I have seen so many examples of that form of journalistic laziness that it truly thrills me now when I see a reporter make factual statements. Kudos to the WaPo for doing some actual reporting, and consequently holding our leaders accountable.
"Once again he was careful and never strayed into untenable assertions of triumph and progress."

No, he just stuck to the occasional baldfaced lie:

We worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny the inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did. And the world is safer for it. [my emphasis]
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