AP, Wash. Post reported Bush claim on troop withdrawals but not generals'

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

The Washington Post and the Associated Press uncritically reported Bush's statement that "General [David] Petraeus and Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker tell me if the kind of success we are now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces." But neither noted reports -- including by the AP -- that Petraeus and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have said that the number of U.S. troops in Iraq will have to decrease next year regardless of success.

In September 3 articles on President Bush's trip to Iraq, The Washington Post and the Associated Press uncritically reported Bush's statement that "General [David] Petraeus and Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker tell me if the kind of success we are now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces." But neither media outlet noted reports -- including by the AP -- that Petraeus and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have said that the number of U.S. troops in Iraq will have to decrease next year regardless of success.

In a Post article headlined "In Iraq, Bush Cites Gains: President Suggests Continuation Could Allow Drawdown," staff writers Michael A. Fletcher and Ann Scott Tyson reported that Bush "said Monday that continued gains in security in Iraq could allow for a reduction in U.S. troops and called on the Iraqi government to follow up with progress toward rebuilding and political reconciliation." The article quoted Bush's assertion that "General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker tell me if the kind of success we are now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces."

Similarly, in an AP article headlined "Bush Sees Possible Troop Cuts In Iraq," writers Deb Riechmann and Robert Burns reported that "President Bush raised the possibility Monday of U.S. troop cuts in Iraq if security continues to improve, traveling here secretly to assess the war before a showdown with Congress." The article continued: "Bush did not say how large a troop withdrawal might be possible or whether it might occur before next spring when the first of the additional 30,000 troops he ordered to Iraq this year are to start coming home anyway. He emphasized that any cut would depend upon progress." Riechmann and Burns also noted Bush's statement that Petraeus and Crocker "tell me if the kind of success we are now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces."

In a separate speech the same day, Bush said that "when we begin to draw down troops from Iraq, it will be from a position of strength":

BUSH: But I want to tell you this about the decision -- about my decision about troop levels. Those decisions will be based on a calm assessment by our military commanders on the conditions on the ground -- not a nervous reaction by Washington politicians to poll results in the media. (Hooah.) In other words, when we begin to draw down troops from Iraq, it will be from a position of strength and success, not from a position of fear and failure. To do otherwise would embolden our enemies and make it more likely that they would attack us at home. If we let our enemies back us out of Iraq, we will more likely face them in America. If we don't want to hear their footsteps back home, we have to keep them on their heels over here. And that's exactly what you're doing, and America is safer for it.

But while both articles noted Bush's claim that troop levels in Iraq will be reduced only if security can be maintained in the country, the Associated Press reported in an August 15 article that Petraeus stated during an interview: "We know that the surge has to come to an end. There's no question about that." Petraeus continued: "I think everyone understands that by about a year or so from now we've got to be a good bit smaller than we are right now. The question is how do you do that ... so that you can retain the gains we have fought so hard to achieve and so you can keep going." From the August 15 AP article:

The general, who wrote the Army's book on counterinsurgency, said he and his staff were "trying to do the battlefield geometry right now" as he prepared his troop-level recommendations.

"We know that the surge has to come to an end. There's no question about that. I think everyone understands that by about a year or so from now we've got to be a good bit smaller than we are right now.

"The question is how do you do that ... so that you can retain the gains we have fought so hard to achieve and so you can keep going. Again we are not at all satisfied where we are right now. We have made some progress but again there's still a lot of hard work to be done against the different extremist elements that do threaten the new Iraq."

In contrast to the Washington Post and AP articles, USA Today reported on September 4 that "Pentagon officials have said they cannot sustain this year's buildup of about 28,000 additional troops past next spring because of the stretched personnel demands on the U.S. military." The Los Angeles Times also reported in an August 24 article that Pace "is expected to advise President Bush to reduce the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half." The article continued: "Administration and military officials say Marine Gen. Peter Pace is likely to convey concerns by the Joint Chiefs that keeping well in excess of 100,000 troops in Iraq through 2008 will severely strain the military."

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