White House again times Iraq policy to U.S. elections; CBS' Couric and Axelrod show little interest, despite surge of troop deaths

››› ››› ROB MORLINO

CBS' Jim Axelrod reported that a White House official told him, "[D]o not expect to see anything significant prior to Election Day" "as far as a significant change" in the Bush administration's Iraq policy and then quoted the official as saying: "You're not going to see anything before November 8th. It would be political suicide, and Karl Rove would never allow it." Axelrod and anchor Katie Couric failed to point out that, as of October 25, the death toll for U.S. soldiers in Iraq stood at 91 for the month, which sets a pace that would make October the deadliest month for U.S. troops in two years.

On the October 24 broadcast of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, CBS News White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reported that a White House official told him, "[D]o not expect to see anything significant prior to Election Day" "as far as a significant change" in the Bush administration's Iraq policy and then quoted the official as saying: "You're not going to see anything before November 8th. It would be political suicide, and Karl Rove would never allow it." Despite the apparent admission by this White House official that the administration is making tactical decisions about the Iraq war based on domestic political calculations, Axelrod and anchor Katie Couric failed to point out that, as of October 25, the death toll for U.S. soldiers in Iraq stood at 91 for the month, which sets a pace that would make October the deadliest month for U.S. troops in two years. Instead, Couric asked Axelrod, "But why is it political suicide if so many people are unhappy with what's going on in Iraq? You would think that to save their hides Election Day, they'd want to change course." In response, Axelrod asserted that President Bush "is known, if for nothing else, for his resolve. ... So to make such a significant change in two weeks' time I think would open -- introduce more problems than suggest answers."

The Bush administration has demonstrated a willingness to time policy decisions in Iraq to U.S. electoral politics. And the media have previously shown little interest in reporting this. Media Matters for America noted the media's near-total silence regarding an October 11, 2004, Los Angeles Times report that the Bush administration planned to delay major assaults on insurgent strongholds in Iraq until after the 2004 U.S. presidential election, fearing large numbers of U.S. military casualties. As Media Matters noted, TV news broadcasts did not mention the Times article prior to the election; however, on November 8, 2004, the top story on each of the major TV networks' morning shows was the U.S.-led forces' assault on Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah.

During an October 25 press conference in which Bush discussed the establishment of "benchmarks" for the Iraqi government "to determine whether or not they're making the hard decisions necessary to achieve peace," NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory asked Bush, "In the past, Democrats and other critics of the war who talked about benchmarks and timetables were labeled as defeatist, 'Defeatocrats,' or people who wanted to 'cut and run.' So why shouldn't the American people conclude that this is nothing from you other than semantic, rhetorical games and all politics two weeks before an election?"

From the October 24 broadcast of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:

COURIC: Meanwhile, Jim Axelrod, [Sen.] Lindsey Graham [R-SC], a high-ranking Republican, told the AP yesterday, "We're on the verge of chaos, and the current plan is not working." Yet another voice in this growing chorus. The midterm elections are two weeks away. How much pressure is the Bush administration under, and do you think there will be a change in strategy?

AXELROD: Well, the White House is in quite a bind, Katie, because on one hand, it has to project some sense of resolve, certainly to keep appealing to its base. On the other hand, they read the polls, and they know that voters want a change in Iraq policy. But as far as any significant change, a White House official tells me, do not expect to see anything significant prior to Election Day. Quoting, "You're not going to see anything before November 8th. It would be political suicide, and Karl Rove would never allow it."

COURIC: But why is it political suicide if so many people are unhappy with what's going on in Iraq? You would think that to save their hides Election Day, they'd want to change course.

AXELROD: Because this president is known, if for nothing else, for his resolve, for -- even though they're trying to stay away from the phrase -- staying the course. So to make such a significant change in two weeks' time I think would open -- introduce more problems than suggest answers.

COURIC: All right. Well, Jim Axelrod and David Martin [CBS News national security correspondent], thank you both.

From President Bush's October 25 press conference:

GREGORY: Mr. President, for several years, you have been saying that America will stay the course in Iraq, you're committed to the policy. And now you say that, no, you're not saying, "stay the course," that you're adapting to win, that you're showing flexibility. And as you mention, out of Baghdad we're now hearing about benchmarks and timetables from the Iraqi government, as relayed by American officials, to stop the sectarian violence. In the past, Democrats and other critics of the war who talked about benchmarks and timetables were labeled as defeatist, "Defeatocrats," or people who wanted to "cut and run." So why shouldn't the American people conclude that this is nothing from you other than semantic, rhetorical games and all politics two weeks before an election?

BUSH: David, there is a significant difference between benchmarks for a government to achieve and a timetable for withdrawal. You're talking about -- when you're talking about the benchmarks, he's talking about the fact that we're working with the Iraqi government to have certain benchmarks to meet as a way to determine whether or not they're making the hard decisions necessary to achieve peace. I believe that's what you're referring to. And we're working with the Iraqi government to come up with benchmarks. Listen, this is a sovereign government. It was elected by the people of Iraq. What we're asking them to do is to say, "When do you think you're going to get this done? When can you get this done?" So the people themselves in Iraq can see that the government is moving forward with the reconciliation plan and plans necessary to unify this government. That is substantially different, David, from people saying, "We want a time certain to get out of Iraq." As a matter of fact, the benchmarks will make it more likely we win. Withdrawing on an artificial timetable means we lose. Now, I'm giving the speeches -- you're asking me why I'm giving this speech today? Because there's -- I think I owe an explanation to the American people and will continue to make explanations. The people need to know that we have a plan for victory. Like I said in my opening comments, I fully understand if the people think we don't have a plan for victory, they're not gonna support the effort. And so I'll continue to speak out about -- about our way forward.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
CBS
Person
Katie Couric
Show/Publication
CBS Evening News
Stories/Interests
2006 Elections
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