NY Sun headline falsely claimed Sen. Durbin "concedes surge is working"

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

An August 9 New York Sun article on recent statements by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) regarding President Bush's troop increase strategy in Iraq appeared under the headline: "A Ranking Senate Democrat Concedes Surge Is Working." The Sun based its article on comments Durbin made during a CNN interview with American Morning co-host John Roberts on August 8. Yet while Durbin cited military progress in Iraq during the CNN interview, he did not "concede" that the "surge is working" as the Sun article's headline stated. Rather, he specifically said that he sees "two important parts to this story. ... As we are seeing military progress, the political scene is discouraging." When President Bush announced his troop increase strategy in January, he observed, "A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operation."

The article itself noted that Durbin is "pessimistic about political progress" in Iraq. Durbin later reiterated his point on the August 8 edition of NPR's Morning Edition, noting that "our troops show some progress towards security, [but] the government of [Iraq] is moving in the opposite direction."

The Sun article reported that Durbin had cited military progress during his CNN interview with Roberts and that he and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) "told CNN that they saw little evidence that the Iraqi parliament would soon reach a political compact between Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis":

The no. 2 Democrat in the Senate -- the assistant majority leader, Richard Durbin of Illinois -- is conceding that the surge of American troops has led to military progress in Iraq.

His comments make him the second Democratic leader in 10 days to make comments that could open the door for the majority party in Congress to pivot away from its insistence on a deadline for an American retreat.

Speaking to CNN yesterday while visiting Baghdad, Mr. Durbin said, "We found that today as we went to a forward base in an area that, in the fifth year of the war, it's the first time we're putting troops on the ground to intercept Al Qaeda."

[...]

While Mr. Durbin and Senator Casey, a Democrat of Pennsylvania, have acknowledged recent military progress, they were more pessimistic about political progress. They told CNN that they saw little evidence that the Iraqi parliament would soon reach a political compact between Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis.

When announcing his Iraq escalation strategy in January, Bush specifically stated that "[a] successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operation" and will include a political component: "hold[ing] the Iraqi government to the benchmarks [America] has announced":

A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.

To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November. To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis. To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs. To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution.

On American Morning, Durbin criticized the political component of Bush's strategy, claiming that the U.S. military is "making real progress" in Iraq but that "the political scene is discouraging." Moreover, Casey argued that "there's a bipartisan agreement right now to change the course. I think the president should listen to the will of the American people":

DURBIN: There are two important parts to this story: the military part -- as Senator Casey said, where men and women are doing their best and making real progress. We found that today as we went to a forward base in an area that for -- in the fifth year of the war, it's the first time that we're putting troops on the ground to intercept Al Qaeda. But I have to tell you there's another side to this story that the Brookings Institution shouldn't miss. As we are seeing military progress, the political scene is very discouraging.

[...]

DURBIN: Well, what we find is that the surge has troops going into areas where, for four and a half years, we have not seen our military in action. And naturally, they are routing out the Al Qaeda in those areas. That's a good thing. But there is no evidence of the government of Iraq in these areas. There are no Iraqi policemen, no Iraqi soldiers. These are Americans.

[...]

CASEY: And we've said from the beginning that our troops are doing their job. The problem here is the president of the United States continues to insist on a stay-the-course policy -- no change in direction, no sense that the American people can determine there's a light at the end of the tunnel. That's why I think there's a bipartisan agreement right now to change the course. I think the president should listen to the will of the American people.

Durbin later reiterated his assertion on Morning Edition, praising the work of the U.S. military but criticizing the Iraqi government:

STEVE INSKEEP (co-host): Have you heard something that has changed your skepticism about the overall mission?

DURBIN: Well, I've never been skeptical about our troops and their ability to accept a mission and to perform it well. I can see that even in the earliest stages here. But there's a reality as well. There is no evidence of the Iraqi government in this area -- none. And when you meet with local people and talk to them about the follow-through once our troops have really done the job, there's still a long, long way to seeing that happen.

INSKEEP: Are Iraqi troops working alongside the American troops at all?

DURBIN: No. And it's disappointing, but I think it reflects the reality. For almost five years now, we have talked about standing up 300, 400,000 Iraqi troops to take the place of American soldiers. In some parts of the country, that's happening in a limited way, but the idea that our surge will be handed off to the Iraqis, at this point, is just a theory.

[...]

DURBIN: I can just tell you honestly, I don't know if we left in 10 months or 10 years if there would be a remarkable difference. I think we're making some measurable progress but it's slow-going. And the fact that as our troops show some progress towards security, the government of this nation is moving in the opposite direction. This is really unsustainable with the American people. I mean, they are behind the troops and their families, we want them to be successful, but we have to accept the reality on the ground. And I think the Bush administration has really ignored this reality. They're not accepting the fact that this al-Maliki government is not a government of national unity.

From the August 8 edition of CNN's American Morning:

ROBERTS: Senator Durbin, the Brookings institution scholars Michael O'Hanlon and Ken Pollack were over there recently, wrote an editorial in The New York Times in which they said, "Yes, there is progress, and the progress is significant enough that U.S. troops should stay on the ground at least until the beginning of 2008." Did you see any of the progress they were talking about?

DURBIN: There are two important parts to this story: the military part -- as Senator Casey said, where men and women are doing their best and making real progress. We found that today as we went to a forward base in an area that for -- in the fifth year of the war, it's the first time that we're putting troops on the ground to intercept Al Qaeda. But I have to tell you there's another side to this story that the Brookings Institution shouldn't miss. As we are seeing military progress, the political scene is very discouraging. We have seen this al-Maliki government, which was once branded a government of national unity, coming apart. We see Shias leaving, Sunnis walking out. It's not the kind of promise that we want in terms of bringing stability to this country.

ROBERTS: But hold on. Let me back you up there. You said you did see military progress?

DURBIN: Well, what we find is that the surge has troops going into areas where, for four and a half years, we have not seen our military in action. And naturally, they are routing out the Al Qaeda in those areas. That's a good thing. But there is no evidence of the government of Iraq in these areas. There are no Iraqi policemen, no Iraqi soldiers. These are Americans.

ROBERTS: I understand all of that. But Senator Durbin, everybody in the Democratic Party is saying that the surge has failed. Senator Casey, do you agree with your colleague that there are some signs of military progress here?

CASEY: Sure there are, John. And we've said from the beginning that our troops are doing their job. The problem here is the president of the United States continues to insist on a stay-the-course policy -- no change in direction, no sense that the American people can determine there's a light at the end of the tunnel. That's why I think there's a bipartisan agreement right now to change the course. I think the president should listen to the will of the American people.

From the August 8 edition of NPR's Morning Edition:

RENEE MONTAGNE (co-host): [NPR White House correspondent] David [Green], stay with us. We're going to listen now to one of the president's opponents in Congress. Steve?

INSKEEP: Yeah, his name is Richard Durbin. He is the number-two Democrat in the Senate, which means he's been at the center of Democratic struggles to assert some control over U.S. policy in Iraq. And this morning, we reached Senator Durbin as he visited Baghdad.

DURBIN: Well, I can tell you that it's hotter than a furnace here. And we went over to a patrol base 10 miles outside of Baghdad where there's a surge effort on the way, about 900 of our troops are involved. They're really trying to take control of the territory, which in the first five years or so of this war has really been left to the enemy. It's a valiant, heroic effort by our troops, and one that's showing some results on the ground.

INSKEEP: Really? Have you heard something that has changed your skepticism about the overall mission?

DURBIN: Well, I've never been skeptical about our troops and their ability to accept a mission and to perform it well. I can see that even in the earliest stages here. But there's a reality as well. There is no evidence of the Iraqi government in this area -- none. And when you meet with local people and talk to them about the follow-through once our troops have really done the job, there's still a long, long way to seeing that happen.

INSKEEP: Are Iraqi troops working alongside the American troops at all?

DURBIN: No. And it's disappointing, but I think it reflects the reality. For almost five years now, we have talked about standing up 300, 400,000 Iraqi troops to take the place of American soldiers. In some parts of the country, that's happening in a limited way, but the idea that our surge will be handed off to the Iraqis, at this point, is just a theory.

INSKEEP: What does that imply for U.S. efforts or hopes to eventually pull out of Iraq?

DURBIN: Well, it's not very encouraging in that regard. I have to tell you quite honestly that when you ask about when will this end, I think most of these soldiers view it in terms of their deployment -- 15 months of risking their lives every single day to do their mission, and then probably handing an off to a another group of American soldiers.

That's the thing that I think many of us find troubling. And this is a troubled nation. The very basics are still an issue here: electricity and water and jobs. And it's a troubled government where the Shias that were loyal to [Shiite cleric Muqtada al-] Sadr were forced out, and the Sunnis walked out. It's no longer a government of national unity and, honestly, even the best military leaders in America suggest the long-term goal here has to be a strong government. We're a long way from it.

INSKEEP: Well, if you are a long way from that government, can I ask what would happen if you got your way, which is a relatively early -- relatively early withdrawal of U.S. -- U.S. troops?

DURBIN: Well, I honestly believe that we have to understand the reality on the ground here and deal with it. And the reality is that the Iraqis are still caught up in these squabbles between factions here that branch into civil war in their worst iteration. And we have to let them know that we cannot stay here indefinitely and wait for them to come to grips with basic questions. Do they want a nation? Do they want to come together as a nation? Who will they choose as their government, and will they be loyal to that government? I mean, these are fundamental issues still unresolved in the fifth year of this war.

INSKEEP: As you know, President Bush has warned of chaos if U.S. troops leave. Senator John McCain, your fellow senator, has even used the word "genocide" as one possibility. Without saying that will happen, I wonder if you're willing to accept that possibility. If you would say, even if the worst happens, it's better for U.S. troops to pull out when they can.

DURBIN: I can just tell you honestly, I don't know if we left in 10 months or 10 years if there would be a remarkable difference. I think we're making some measurable progress but it's slow-going. And the fact that as our troops show some progress towards security, the government of this nation is moving in the opposite direction. This is really unsustainable with the American people. I mean, they are behind the troops and their families, we want them to be successful, but we have to accept the reality on the ground. And I think the Bush administration has really ignored this reality. They're not accepting the fact that this al-Maliki government is not a government of national unity.

INSKEEP: As you look across the United States Senate, how much longer do you think the White House can sustain enough support to prevent you from forcing a new policy on the White House?

DURBIN: Well, that's quite -- that's an important question. It was asked to me this morning by a soldier sitting next to me on a C-130 as I came in with the troops sitting in the back end of a cargo plane. And he said, "Well, are we leaving? Are we gonna get out of here?" And I said, "We've got four Republican senators who've joined Democrats, we need seven more." He says, "I wish one of those senators could spend a day with me in the life of a soldier here in Iraq." I think that said it all from where I was sitting.

INSKEEP: Richard Durbin of Illinois is the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate. We reached him in Baghdad. Senator, thanks very much.

DURBIN: Thanks so much.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
The New York Sun
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