Chieftain uncritically quoted Bush's suggestion that terrorists would "come and get us" if U.S. withdraws troops from Iraq

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

A Pueblo Chieftain article quoted President Bush's claim that terrorists would "come and get us" in the United States if the Iraq war "were to fail." But the Chieftain did not mention widespread news reports stating that experts and analysts have challenged Bush's repeated assertion that troop withdrawal would lead to terrorist attacks in this country.

In a May 27 article by reporter Peter Roper, The Pueblo Chieftain uncritically quoted President Bush's claim that if the war in Iraq "were to fail" terrorists would "come and get us" here in the United States, without assessing its validity. However, as Media Matters for America has documented, experts have widely challenged the assertion that a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq would endanger the U.S. mainland.

The Chieftain reported that an increasing number of Republican lawmakers are beginning to oppose Bush's Iraq policy, noting, "Last week, President Bush and congressional Democrats fought a major battle over Iraq policy with the White House winning what might turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory for the GOP." The article stated that Bush "forced Democrats to drop any timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq from a $120 (sic) defense spending bill to pay for the war through Sept. 30." The Chieftain continued:

In holding the line for the White House, some high-profile Republicans such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona said Democrats who voted against the bill were embracing a "policy of surrender" in Iraq. But there also were important signs last week that Republican lawmakers are no longer willing to simply back the Bush policy of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq.

GOP Sens. Judd Gregg and John Sununu, both of New Hampshire, along with Bob Bennett, of Utah, decided last week to co-sponsor U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar's legislation to implement the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. That legislation would require the Iraq government to make significant reforms or face a drawdown in U.S. troops next year. Salazar, a Colorado Democrat, is co-sponsoring the bill with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

The Chieftain further noted that "the message that came out of the White House last week was a determined commitment to stay in Iraq":

Declassifying some intelligence reports that said al-Qaida terrorists still intend to attack the U.S., the president told reporters that it was essential to keep troops in Iraq until that country has a stable government.

"The danger of this particular theater in the war on terror is that if we were to fail, they'd come and get us," Bush said. "It's better to fight them there than here."

However, in uncritically quoting Bush, the Chieftain did not note that numerous experts have challenged his implication that U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq would lead to terrorist attacks in the United States, as Media Matters has documented (here, here, here, and here).

For example, a May 23 NBC Nightly News report (accessed through the Nexis database) by NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory included a response from NBC terrorism analyst Michael Sheehan to Bush's May 23 commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Sheehan challenged Bush's claim that "[t]he enemy in Iraq does" have "the capability to strike our homeland":

SHEEHAN: Al Qaeda clearly has demonstrated an operational capability in Iraq to conduct sophisticated terrorist operations there. However, they have not mastered the ability to export the operatives and the capability to the United States.

In addition, other news outlets have reported experts and analysts challenging Bush's repeated claim that terrorists will attack in the U.S. if the United States withdraws from Iraq:

  • According to an April 6 McClatchy Newspapers article, "Military and diplomatic analysts" say that Bush's claim about the Iraq war -- that "this is a war in which, if we were to leave before the job is done, the enemy would follow us here" -- "exaggerate[s] the threat that the enemy forces in Iraq pose to the U.S. mainland." The article also reported, "U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic experts in Bush's own government say the violence in Iraq is primarily a struggle for power between Shiite and Sunni Muslim Iraqis seeking to dominate their society, not a crusade by radical Sunni jihadists bent on carrying the battle to the United States."
  • A March 18 Washington Post article reported that "U.S. intelligence officials and outside experts" have said that the Iraqi branch of Al Qaeda "poses little danger to the security of the U.S. homeland," as Media Matters also documented.
  • In an April 30 report by National Public Radio's All Things Considered exploring Bush's claim that "[i]f we do not defeat the terrorists and extremists in Iraq, they ... will follow us to the United States of America," NPR correspondent David Welna cited several experts challenging this claim. He reported that retired Brig. Gen. John H. Johns considers that warning "propaganda" and that, according to Johns, "[i]t's actually leaving American forces in Iraq ... that increases the chances of a terrorist attack on the U.S." Welna also reported that retired Army Lt. Col. James Carafano, a research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, "calls asserting that terrorists will follow U.S. troops home naive and poor rhetoric." Welna's report also featured a clip of Carafano saying, "There's no national security analyst that's really credible who thinks that people are going to come from Iraq and attack the United States -- that that's a credible scenario."
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