On the August 11 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Melanie Morgan -- one of several conservative radio talk show hosts who recently returned from the "'Voices of Soldiers' Truth Tour" -- asserted that, according to the "troops" and "top brass" with whom she spoke on the trip, the Iraqi insurgency is in its "last gasps" and the U.S. can begin "drawing down" its troop deployments following election of a permanent constitutional government in Iraq this December. In fact, recent evaluations of the conflict by top military and defense officials suggest that the insurgency has maintained its strength, and President Bush has repeatedly stated that the U.S. will withdraw its forces only once the Iraqi military is prepared to fight the insurgency.
Insurgency alive and well
Far from describing the insurgency as being in its "last gasps," top military and defense officials have recently offered a very different assessment of the insurgency. On the June 26 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Defense Secretary Donald R. Rumsfeld said: "[The Iraqi] insurgency could go on for any number of years," adding that "[i]nsurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years." In an August 2 interview with Dallas talk show host Mark Davis, Rumsfeld reiterated that the insurgency remains operational: "[N]umbers of attacks has been fairly level with big spikes going up, for example, during the election period, and as the insurgents try to prevent progress towards democracy."
Rumsfeld's evaluation was echoed by Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in an August 9 press briefing. Regarding the insurgents, Myers said: "[T]heir capacity has stayed about the same in terms of numbers of incidents, particularly the number of incidents that have any effect, wounding people, killing people, be they coalition or be they the Iraqis or whatever." He added: "So some of the attacks are more effective than they were in the past. Nevertheless, the overall capacity of what they're able to do on any given day is about the same as we've also seen here as we get into August."
And, in an August 12 press briefing, Brig. Gen. Yves J. Fontaine, commander of the 1st Corps Support Command of the Multinational Corps in Iraq, stated that the number of improvised explosive device (IED) attacks on coalition forces has actually doubled over the past year:
QUESTION: Could you please assess the current danger to supply convoys that the insurgents are posing? Is it increasing, decreasing? Is it changing in any way? And also, could you talk about the evolution of the IEDs? Are you seeing more powerful ones?
FONTAINE: As a matter of fact, we have seen an increase in the use of IEDs on our convoys. And our main threat is the IED for the logistics convoys coming from Kuwait, Jordan, and Turkey, and then going to the Baghdad area. So the increase has been to about 30 a week.
QUESTION: You mentioned that you're at 30 IED attacks on a weekly basis. Could you give me a comparison to what that level was previously?
FONTAINE: Yes, sir. It's about 100 percent increased from the last year.
Moreover, August has seen a wave of deadly attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. On the August 10 broadcast of the CBS Evening News, anchor Bob Schieffer reported: "The worst month of the war for Americans was November of last year, when 137 of our military people were killed. But if current violence in Iraq continues, this month could be just as deadly, perhaps worse. Ten days into August, 44 Americans have been killed, which brings the death toll since the invasion to 1,841." As of August 15, the total number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq for August 2005 stood at 54.
Bush says troop withdrawal contingent on Iraqi military readiness
Despite Morgan's assertion that the "top brass" told her "[U.S. forces] can start drawing down and coming home" after the December elections, Bush has repeatedly stated that U.S. forces will leave Iraq only after the country's security forces are prepared to combat the insurgency. In an August 4 press conference, Bush acknowledged that the establishment of a permanent government in Iraq was an important step forward, but he explicitly stated that U.S. troop withdrawal was contingent on the military readiness of Iraqi forces. Bush stated:
We will stay the course; we will complete the job in Iraq. And the job is this: We will help the Iraqis develop a democracy. They're writing -- in process of writing a constitution which will be ratified in October, and then they will elect a permanent government.
It's also important for our citizens to understand that progress had been made, particularly when 8-plus-million people got to vote, in the face of [Ayman al-] Zawahiris and [Abu Masab al-] Zarqawis and these killers. We're also training Iraqis. Our troops will come home as soon as possible. As soon as possible means when those Iraqis are prepared to fight. As Iraq stands up, our coalition will stand down.
In an August 11 press briefing, the president reiterated his position that U.S. forces would withdraw only once the Iraqi security forces were prepared to fight the insurgency:
Clearly -- my position has been clear, and the position of -- therefore, the position of this government is clear, that as Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down. And that means that there's -- obviously, the conditions on the ground depend upon our capacity to bring troops home [sic], and the main condition is to whether or not the Iraqis have got the capability of taking the fight to the enemy.
At no point did the president suggest that U.S. troop withdrawal was contingent upon any factor other than the military readiness of Iraqi forces.
From the August 11 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
HILARY ROSEN (Democratic strategist): In fact, 40 percent of the people fighting in Iraq are, in theory, part-time volunteers who have been there over a year beyond when they were supposed to be. So, it is exactly because we have a volunteer army that soldiers and their families need to understand the truth. They deserve the truth. What is an exit strategy? What will satisfy the president? What does success look like? That is not happening. We're not getting that from the president --
DAVID GREGORY (substitute host): Melanie -- Melanie, is there something else at work here, despite what you said about Mrs. [protester Cindy] Sheehan? Is there not a kind of tipping point here, where a majority -- and, certainly, the polls bear this out -- of Americans are starting to raise their hands and say, wait a minute, this is not what we bargained for; this is not what the president said would happen; it's not even matching what the president is saying is happening on the ground?
MORGAN: Well, this is what is so terribly frustrating, David, because I have been to Iraq. I have been on the ground. I have seen what's going on. And it is not being reported accurately in the media. I can tell you for a fact that the soldiers there are saying that we are winning the war, precisely because the insurgency miscalculated back in January that the elections would be as successful as they were. They made a terrible mistake, and now they know that they have to derail the upcoming elections, constitutional referendum elections, that are this month and again in December. And that's why they're fighting as viciously as they are, and that's why they are in the last gasps of their insurgency, because if we win -- and, by winning, I mean those democratic elections -- that means that we can start drawing down and coming home. And that's what the troops told me, and that's what the top brass told me. I agree that the president has done a very poor job of articulating why we are there. And that's why I went to Iraq, along with half a dozen of my fellow talk show hosts, to get the message out.
MORGAN: The reason why there's a disconnect is because the media is not reporting the story as accurately as it is being experienced by our troops.
GREGORY: All right. We are going to have to leave it there.