In the two days since President Bush's December 19 interview with The Washington Post, during which, according to the Post, he "acknowledged for the first time ... that the United States is not winning the war in Iraq," the Los Angeles Times has made no mention of Bush's acknowledgment. In a December 20 article, the Los Angeles Times instead focused solely on Bush "asking for plans to expand the military for a long war against terrorism," while an article in the next day's edition of the paper reported that, during Bush's December 20 press conference, he "delivered an uncharacteristically dour assessment ... of the war and called 2006 a 'difficult year.' " Moreover, in the Times' reprinting of excerpts of the press conference from the Associated Press, the question about Bush's seeming reversal and his acknowledgement of it were not included. By contrast, in their coverage of the interview, the Post, the AP, and USA Today, and on December 21, in The New York Times' coverage of the press conference, all articles noted that Bush's statement, in the Post's words, was "a striking reversal for a president who, days before the November elections, declared, 'Absolutely, we're winning.' " Indeed, during the interview with the Post, Bush responded to a question about the apparent flip-flop by saying that his previous assessment of the situation in Iraq was "an indication of my belief we're going to win."
In addition to an October 25 press conference, during which Bush was asked directly, "Are we winning?" and he answered, "Absolutely, we're winning," Bush and White House press secretary Tony Snow have both stated recently that the United States is winning in Iraq. During a December 5 press briefing, Snow was asked whether, in light of a comment by then-Defense Secretary nominee Robert Gates that day that the United States was neither winning nor losing in Iraq, Bush "today believe[s] that we are winning in Iraq," Snow replied that he had "no reason" to think Bush's previous statement that "we're winning" had changed. From the press briefing:
REPORTER: Does the president today believe that we are winning in Iraq? It's a very straightforward question.
SNOW: I know, but I did not ask him the question today. The most recently asked, he said, "yes."
REPORTER: OK, so that might change from day-to-day. So, it may have changed --
SNOW: No, I don't --
REPORTER: -- he may no longer believe that we're winning the war in Iraq. You don't know.
SNOW: I have no reason to think it changed, but also, again, go back and take a look at the broader answer that Bob Gates gave and ask yourself: Is this consistent or inconsistent with what the president has been saying? I think you're going to find it's very consistent.
Similarly, during a July 7 press conference in Chicago, Bush said that the image of dead Americans on television screens "sends a signal, well, maybe we're not winning" but that what is not shown is that "[w]e are winning."
From the December 19 Post interview with Bush:
Are we winning in Iraq, in your estimation?
You know, I think an interesting construct that General [Peter] Pace uses is, "We're not winning, we're not losing." There's been some very positive developments. And you take a step back and look at progress in Iraq, you say, well, it's amazing -- constitutional democracy in the heart of the Middle East, which is a remarkable development in itself.
I think one of the -- obviously, the real problem we face is the sectarian violence that needs to be dealt with. So part of my policy review is how do we deal with that in a way that then enables the Iraqi people to live in a more secure society so that the government can prove its worth to the people -- saying, we can help you. And one of the main functions of government is to provide security for its people. Our job is to help the Iraqis provide that security. And I'll come forward with a plan that will enable us to achieve that objective.
There's other threats, by the way. It's a multiple-front war, if you really think about it. You got Shia discord in the south; you've got Sunni attacks, much of that -- many of them are caused by al-Qaeda. A lot of them, former Baathists and regimists who are angry that Saddam is no longer in power, and they are a source of conflict in al-Anbar province. And we've got a very robust effort -- I said the other day something that, I guess, people didn't pay that much attention to -- but for October and November and the first week of December, our actions on the ground have -- as a result of action on the ground, we killed or captured nearly 5,900 people. My point in making that point is our troops and coalition troops are on the offense in a lot of areas.
And then the third area of conflict, the one that gets a lot of attention, as it should, is the sectarian violence taking place in Baghdad. And I fully understand that we've got to help the Iraqis deal with that. So my thinking is -- and a lot of our strategy sessions revolve around how best to deal with this problem, and how best to help the Iraqis deal with it. And I've got some more work to do, and I'll come forth at the appropriate time and explain the way forward to the country.
Can we come back to General Pace's formulation about winning, not losing? You said October 24th [sic], "Absolutely, we're winning." And I wanted to --
Yes, that was an indication of my belief we're going to win. Look, I've got four constituencies I speak to on a regular basis; one is the American people, who are justifiably frustrated at the progress in Iraq. And they expect the commander in chief and the people in Washington to support our troops. Supporting our troops not only means good equipment, good [pay], good housing -- it also means a plan that helps achieve the objective.
The second constituency is the enemy. I'm not through yet.
The enemy wants to know whether or not the United States has the will to stay engaged in this ideological struggle. They don't believe we do. That's what they say. And I believe that's what they believe.
The third group of people I speak to are the Iraqis. They wonder whether the United States has got the will to help them achieve their objectives. That's what they wonder. The leaders I have talked to wonder whether or not -- what the elections mean, or what the Baker-Hamilton commission means, or what changing [former defense] secretary [Donald H.] Rumsfeld means -- that's what they wonder. But in the back of their mind, they're saying, "Are they going to leave us again?" And that's an important question for them to have answered, because in order to make difficult choices and to take risk for peace, they're going to have to be assured that they'll get support. This is a group of people that have had their hopes dashed in the past.
And the fourth group is the military. Our troops wonder whether or not our country supports them, and they do. They wonder whether or not the mission and the sacrifice and the toil that they're making is worth it. And they need to know from the commander in chief: Not only is it worth it, but I strongly support them and believe that their work will lead to victory. That's what I believe.
Anyway, you just need to know that's who I'm speaking to when I speak. And to you, of course. You're the objective filter through which my -- (Laughter.)