NBC, LA Times quoted Bush claiming Al Qaeda is our "major enemy in Iraq," ignored experts' rebuttal

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

On the July 5 edition of NBC's Today, NBC News White House correspondent Kelly O'Donnell said that President Bush's response to calls for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is "Remember Al Qaeda," and then showed a video clip of Bush's statement during a July 4 speech that "a major enemy in Iraq is the same enemy that dared attack the United States" on September 11, 2001. O'Donnell did not report that, according to a June 28 McClatchy Newspapers article, "U.S. military and intelligence officials" dispute Bush's repeated assertion that Al Qaeda is the source of much of the violence perpetrated in Iraq. McClatchy reported that these officials' "say that Iraqis with ties to al Qaida are only a small fraction of the threat to American troops," and that "[t]he group known as al Qaida in Iraq didn't exist before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, didn't pledge its loyalty to al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden until October 2004 and isn't controlled by bin Laden or his top aides."

A July 5 Los Angeles Times article also uncritically reported part of Bush's quote:

President Bush equated the war in Iraq on Wednesday with the U.S. war for independence. Like those revolutionaries who "dropped their pitchforks and picked up their muskets to fight for liberty," Bush said, American soldiers were also fighting "a new and unprecedented war" to protect U.S. freedom.

In a reprise of speeches he delivered throughout the 2006 congressional campaign, the president said the threat that emerged on Sept. 11, 2001, remained today and "a major enemy in Iraq is the same enemy that dared attack the United States on that fateful day."

The president was adamant in his Fourth of July message that he would stand up to calls to end the war before he believes it has been won. When Congress returns next week, Democrats plan to renew their push to bring home the troops.

By contrast, the June 28 McClatchy article noted that Bush's description of Al Qaeda as "the main enemy" in Iraq was "rejected by his administration's senior intelligence analysts":

Facing eroding support for his Iraq policy, even among Republicans, President Bush on Thursday called al Qaida "the main enemy" in Iraq, an assertion rejected by his administration's senior intelligence analysts.

The reference, in a major speech at the Naval War College that referred to al Qaida at least 27 times, seemed calculated to use lingering outrage over the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to bolster support for the current buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq, despite evidence that sending more troops hasn't reduced the violence or sped Iraqi government action on key issues.

Bush called al Qaida in Iraq the perpetrator of the worst violence racking that country and said it was the same group that had carried out the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

[...]

U.S. military and intelligence officials, however, say that Iraqis with ties to al Qaida are only a small fraction of the threat to American troops. The group known as al Qaida in Iraq didn't exist before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, didn't pledge its loyalty to al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden until October 2004 and isn't controlled by bin Laden or his top aides.

McClatchy has also highlighted Bush's conflation of Al Qaeda and the group Al Qaeda in Iraq and suggested that the rhetorical shift does not accurately reflect the nature of the insurgency. From a June 24 McClatchy article:

The Bush administration's recent shift toward calling the enemy in Iraq "al Qaida" rather than an insurgency may reflect the difficulty in maintaining support for the war at home more than it does the nature of the enemy in Iraq.

The uncritical reporting of Bush's July 4 statement also reflects a pattern noted by Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald. In a June 23 post, Greenwald noted numerous media reports in which the "enemy" in Iraq "is referred to, almost exclusively now, as 'Al Qaeda.' "

From the July 5 edition of NBC's Today:

O'DONNELL: A presidency defined and deflated by the war in Iraq. Even breakaway Republicans like Senator Richard Lugar [IN] have begun to call for fewer troops and a changed strategy. The president counters: "Remember Al Qaeda."

BUSH [video clip]: The very same folks that attacked us on September the 11th, a major enemy in Iraq is the same enemy that dared attack the United States on that fateful day.

JOHN HARWOOD (CNBC chief White House correspondent ) [video clip]: Al Qaeda becomes a justification for keeping U.S. troops there, even though many people think that sectarian violence is a big part of the problem.

O'DONNELL: Beyond the war, the president's dress-down attempt to warm up U.S.-Russia relations in Kennebunkport this week.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
NBC, Los Angeles Times
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