CBS Evening News falsely described proponent of Iraq "surge" as former opponent of it

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

On the July 30 edition of the CBS Evening News, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin falsely described Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael O'Hanlon as "a critic" of the Iraq war "who used to think the surge was too little too late, [but] now believes it should be continued." In fact, while O'Hanlon has been critical of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war, he supported the invasion and argued in a January 2007 column that President Bush's troop increase was "the right thing to try."

Additionally, during the July 30 broadcast of Fox News' Special Report, while introducing a report on a July 30 New York Times op-ed by O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, director of research at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy -- in which they asserted: "We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms" -- host and Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume suggested that O'Hanlon and Pollack were longtime Iraq war critics. Hume described the two as "[a] pair of longtime opponents of President Bush's policies in Iraq." The same night, ABC's World News anchor Charles Gibson began his show's report on O'Hanlon and Pollack's op-ed by describing the authors as "long and persistent critics of the Bush administration's handling of the war." But in focusing only on O'Hanlon and Pollack's criticisms of the "handling" of the war, the news broadcasts failed to note that O'Hanlon and Pollack were influential proponents of the Iraq war before the invasion, leaving viewers with the impression that the two were war opponents who have now become more supportive of the war.

Contrary to Martin's assertion on CBS, O'Hanlon did not "used to think the surge was too little too late." In a January 14, 2007, Washington Post column, O'Hanlon wrote that, while "[c]ritics rightly argue that it may well be too little, way too late" for a troop increase, "for a skeptical Congress and nation, it is still the right thing to try -- as long as we do not count on it succeeding and we start working on backup plans even as we grant Bush his request." O'Hanlon added: "However mediocre its prospects, each main element of the president's plan has some logic behind it." O'Hanlon further argued that "the president wants to move in the right direction on economic reconstruction" and that "President Bush is rightly telegraphing to Iraqi leaders that they must reach compromises with each other." O'Hanlon concluded that "for now, Congress should also give the president the money and support that he requests."

On Special Report, Hume began his show's report by describing the two analysts as "[a] pair of longtime opponents of President Bush's policies in Iraq." During the subsequent segment, Fox News Washington correspondent James Rosen repeatedly painted the "pair" as war opponents who, after visiting Iraq, changed their tune. Rosen reported: "What makes O'Hanlon's and Pollack's assessment especially potent in the current political stew is the fact that both have previously been sharply critical of the White House's conduct of the war." Rosen also contrasted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) opposition to the troop increase to O'Hanlon and Pollack's op-ed, reporting that "both freshly returned from an eight-day trip to Iraq are painting a starkly different portrait" than Reid described in April. Hume concluded the report by stating that "of course O'Hanlon and Pollack both certified Democrats like Harry Reid." Rosen replied, "Left of center, indeed."

As Media Matters for America has noted, however, Pollack authored a book advocating invading Iraq called The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq (Random House, October 2002). Describing Pollack's book in a February 8, 2003, New York Times column (subscription required), Bill Keller -- now the Times' executive editor -- wrote: "Kenneth Pollack, the Clinton National Security Council [NSC] expert whose argument for invading Iraq is surely the most influential book of this season, has provided intellectual cover for every liberal who finds himself inclining toward war but uneasy about Mr. Bush." Random House's online description of the book states: "Examining all sides of the debate and bringing a keen eye to the military and geopolitical forces at work, Pollack ultimately comes to this controversial conclusion: through our own mistakes, the perfidy of others, and Saddam's cunning, the United States is left with few good policy options regarding Iraq. Increasingly, the option that makes the most sense is for the United States to launch a full-scale invasion, eradicate Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, and rebuild Iraq as a prosperous and stable society -- for the good of the United States, the Iraqi people, and the entire region."

O'Hanlon similarly argued in support of the invasion. For instance, in a February 5, 2003, Washington Times op-ed, O'Hanlon wrote: "Even those of us who have questioned the case for war over the last year, and who do not buy all of the Bush administration's arguments for invasion even today, need to face the fact that there soon will be no other plausible option." Continuing, O'Hanlon laid out the rationale for invading Iraq and warned that "the time for patience" with Saddam Hussein "is running out":

So, why is there a case for war at all? First, it must be acknowledged that the above nuclear and terrorist issues are not completely clear-cut. Though the evidence argues otherwise, there is some chance that he is doing more in one or both areas than we now realize.

Second, Saddam surely does still have chemical and biological agents. The president's case was strong and clear on that point last week. Iraq imported a slew of chemical and biological materials that have not been accounted for. This is not just the conclusion of the United States, but of the U.N. inspection teams of the 1990s and more recent months.

Third, inspectors have access to Iraq now only because of the credibility of imminent American and British military action. They can probably prevent Iraq from developing nuclear weapons for as long as they remain in the country, given the difficulty of hiding even a "basement bomb" program due to the sophistication of the needed equipment. But who is to say that inspectors will be allowed to remain in Iraq indefinitely? If we flinch now, Saddam will surely sense weakness and gradually step up his obstacles to the inspection efforts. Should that happen, and should Saddam someday obtain nuclear weapons, he will likely become much more aggressive in his own neighborhood, believing that nukes protect him from retaliation. And U.S. credibility in the Persian Gulf (as well as globally) will have been weakened, further increasing the chances of deterrence failure and war.

There still may be a way to avert war. But it is going to take a radical change of one type or another in Baghdad. The president has been patient, but the time for patience is running out.

From the July 30 edition of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:

MARTIN: With one day left in the month, American casualties in July are the lowest since the troop surge began in February, and civilian casualties are down a third. U.S. officials attribute that to the dismantling of networks which make roadside bombs and to American soldiers protecting the local population.

It would only take a few spectacular attacks to reverse those trends, but even critics of the war strategy are encouraged.

POLLACK: The moment that we got to Baghdad, everything felt very different from previous trips to Iraq.

MARTIN: Former CIA analyst Ken Pollack, who earlier this year published an article about Iraq titled "Things Fall Apart," now sees a sudden change in American fortunes.

POLLACK: This is the first time I have gone to Iraq and actually felt that the United States knew what it was doing and was actually creating some degree of progress.

MARTIN: Retired Marine General Jim Jones, who is conducting a congressionally ordered study of the Iraqi security forces, also came back from Iraq saying, privately, it was better than he expected.

By any measure, Iraq is still a deadly mess, and no one is claiming to see light at the end of the tunnel.

POLLACK: We have not won this war. And we didn't see something that looked like victory over in Iraq. All we saw was progress.

MARTIN: Just enough progress, though, that a critic like Michael O'Hanlon, who used to think the surge was too little too late, now believes it should be continued.

O'HANLON: For me, gut instinct, just piecing all the information together, subjectively, I thought we should give it a few more months into 2008.

MARTIN: Which is exactly what the American commander, General David Petraeus, wants: Continue the surge into next spring, then start a gradual withdrawal back to the pre-surge troop level of 130,000 by the end of 2008.

From the July 30 edition of ABC News' World News with Charles Gibson:

GIBSON: A bit of a surprise today on Iraq. Two long and persistent critics of the Bush administration's handling of the war today wrote a column in The New York Times saying that after a recent eight-day visit to Iraq, they find significant changes taking place. Military analysts Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack wrote: "We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms." They added: "We were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce, not necessarily victory, but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with." The column was the talk of Washington today.

So we're joined by Terry McCarthy in Baghdad, Martha Raddatz at the White House, and Jake Tapper on Capitol Hill for reaction. Let's start with Terry. So Terry McCarthy, let me start with you. Is what they say they saw in Baghdad a fair reflection of what's going on?

TERRY McCARTHY (ABC News correspondent): Charlie, the report tracks fairly closely with what we're seeing both in our visits to U.S. bases in and around Baghdad involved with the surge and also our trips out to Baghdad neighborhoods talking to Iraqi population. Clearly, security is improving as the U.S. military footprint expands, so the violence goes down, the sectarian killings go down. Now what we're not seeing is political progress. The Iraqi Parliament hasn't passed a single bill that the U.S. has been pushing for, and in fact, today, they went off on vacation. They're not due back until September 4.

MARTHA RADDATZ (ABC News chief White House correspondent): The White House was thrilled with this op-ed piece precisely because it concentrated on the military progress and didn't say very much about the lack of political progress. This is what the president has been trying to push. The White House sent this op-ed piece out to the press corps. Anyone who would read it today -- they are hoping this buys them more time on The Hill for the surge to continue but they've been hoping that for a long time.

JAKE TAPPER (ABC News senior national correspondent): Both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill said when asked what impact this op-ed would have, zero. They said, "Do you think members of Congress are going to go back to their constituents, who are asking 'When are you going to bring our boys home?' and say 'Well, hold on a second, read this New York Times op-ed'? " They said that's not realistic. The debate on Capitol Hill has moved far beyond questions of strategy onto the U.S. mission and whether U.S. troops should be there, quote, unquote, "policing a civil war."

GIBSON: All right. Thanks to all three of you. Appreciate it.

From the July 30 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

HUME: A pair of long-time opponents of President Bush's policies in Iraq have come back from a recent trip there with a new view. The two foreign policy analysts writing in The New York Times say it appears the trip surge is already having a positive effect and there is hope for a better outcome than many had predicted. Correspondent James Rosen reports.

[begin video clip]

ROSEN: The date was April 19 and not even half the troops President Bush had ordered sent to Iraq as part of his so-called surge had reached the Baghdad Theater. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was already pronouncing the surge a failure.

REID: It's what the president knows, that this war is lost and that the surge is not accomplishing anything.

ROSEN: But today with all the envisioned troops now in place, a pair of left-of-center foreign policy analysts, one a former NSC official under President Clinton, and both freshly returned from an eight-day trip to Iraq, are painting a starkly different portrait. In a New York Times op-ed entitled "A War We Just Might Win," the Brookings Institution's Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack argue the surge is working.

O'HANLON: Iraq is still very violent, but maybe a one-third reduction in the fatality rate among civilians since the winter. That's a pretty substantial amount of progress in six or seven months.

ROSEN: "We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq at least in military terms," write O'Hanlon and Pollack. "[M]orale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in General David Petraeus. They are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference." "Another surprise," they add "was how well the coalition's new embedded Provincial Reconstruction teams are working. ... [A] new emphasis on micro-loans and small scale projects was having some success."

This guardedly positive assessment anticipates the showdown sure to occur in September, when administration officials have said General Petraeus will update them on the results of the surge. The Petraeus report perhaps regardless of its contents will provide another occasion for the Democratic-controlled Congress to advocate publicly for, and attempt to legislate, the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. What makes O'Hanlon's and Pollack's assessment especially potent in the current political stew is the fact that both have previously been sharply critical of the White House's conduct of the war.

O'HANLON: I was one of those people saying you've got to take this seriously. This Rumsfeldian notion of being able to go in quickly and not worry about the aftermath, which Vice President Cheney and others also reaffirmed, was never responsible planning and I think it was frankly verging on incompetence.

ROSEN: This afternoon, Senator Reid's view of the realities on the ground in Iraq appeared unchanged by the O'Hanlon-Pollack analysis.

REID: The president, nor the future, seems to be bright for the Iraqis and Iraq itself. Our brave troops are fighting in this intractable civil war.

[end video clip]

ROSEN: Where O'Hanlon and Pollack remain most critical is in their view of the Iraqi government, which the analysts accuse of, quote, "dawdling instead of forging ahead with national reconciliation" -- Brit.

HUME: James, of course O'Hanlon and Pollack both certified Democrats like Harry Reid.

ROSEN: Left of center, indeed.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
CBS
Show/Publication
CBS Evening News
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