In covering President's Bush's March 13 speech, the media reported that Bush effectively laid out a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq by setting a "goal of having the Iraqis control more territory than the coalition by the end of 2006" but completely ignored the numerous statements Bush and other administration officials have made denouncing timetables for withdrawal, and attacking those who propose them.
In covering President's Bush's March 13 speech at George Washington University, media outlets reported that Bush effectively laid out a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq by setting a "goal of having the Iraqis control more territory than the coalition by the end of 2006." These reports, however, completely ignored the numerous statements Bush and other administration officials have made denouncing timetables for withdrawal and attacking those -- such as decorated war veteran Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA) -- who proposed them.
In his speech, Bush set a goal of ceding control over most of the country to Iraqis by the end of the year and repeated his oft-used pledge: "As Iraqis stand up, America and our coalition will stand down." However, Bush then said that "decisions on troop levels" will not be set by "artificial timetables set by politicians here in Washington, D.C."
From Bush's March 13 speech:
BUSH: As more capable Iraqi police and soldiers come on line, they will assume responsibility for more territory -- with the goal of having the Iraqis control more territory than the coalition by the end of 2006. And as Iraqis take over more territory, this frees American and Coalition forces to concentrate on training and on hunting down high-value targets like the terrorist Zarqawi and his associates. As Iraqis stand up, America and our coalition will stand down. And my decisions on troop levels will be made based upon the conditions on the ground, and the recommendations of our military commanders -- not artificial timetables set by politicians here in Washington, D.C.
But while media reports characterized Bush's stated goal as a timetable -- with the Associated Press using the term explicitly -- they failed to report that Bush's March 13 remarks not only appeared inconsistent with other statements in Bush's speech but also appeared inconsistent with the entire stream of rhetoric the Bush administration has used to denounce war critics who advocate a timetable for troop withdrawal. From the March 14 AP article by Nedra Pickler:
Even on a particularly grim day, when four Iraqi bodies were found hanging from utility towers and Iraqis coped with the deaths of at least 58 people the day before when car bombings and mortar rounds plagued Baghdad's Sadr City slum, the president said progress was being made and he laid out a timetable.
The New York Times noted that Bush "set a loose goal of training enough Iraqi police and soldiers to control a majority of Iraq's territory by the end of this year," but made no mention of his prior rejection of "timetables." The Washington Post reported that Bush "has largely resisted concrete timelines as the Iraq war dragged on longer than he expected," while the Los Angeles Times reported that Bush's speech offered "a rare example of specificity from a president who has avoided setting timetables for U.S. actions"; neither paper noted the contradictions with Bush's statement rejecting "artificial timetables set by politicians here in Washington, D.C."
Any of these media outlets could have pointed to Bush's June 28, 2005, speech at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, in which he rejected "artificial timetables" because they would "send the wrong message" to the Iraqis, American troops, and "the enemy." Or they could have recalled the White House's attack on Murtha, who, on November 17, 2005, called for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq at "the earliest practicable date," and estimated that "you [could] get them out of there in six months." The next day, White House press secretary Scott McClellan attacked Murtha during a press briefing:
McCLELLAN: Congressman Murtha is a respected veteran and politician who has a record of supporting a strong America. So it is baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party. The eve of an historic democratic election in Iraq is not the time to surrender to the terrorists. After seeing his statement, we remain baffled -- nowhere does he explain how retreating from Iraq makes America safer.