On CNN, Gergen distorted Obama's response regarding U.S. deaths in Iraq

››› ››› ROB DIETZ

During post-debate analysis of the November 15 Democratic presidential debate, U.S. News & World Report editor David Gergen claimed that Sen. Barack Obama "was asked about, is the surge [in Iraq] working, he couldn't even acknowledge, hey, look, the death numbers are down," adding that Obama "dismiss[ed] it altogether." In fact, Obama did not refuse to acknowledge that U.S. deaths in Iraq "have been declining steadily since the spring"; he said that it is "absolutely wrong" to conclude from a decline in violence in Iraq that President Bush's strategy is working.

On the November 15 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, while discussing the just-concluded Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas, U.S. News & World Report editor at large David Gergen claimed that when Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "was asked about, is the surge [in Iraq] working, he couldn't even acknowledge, hey, look, the death numbers are down," adding that Obama "dismiss[ed] it altogether." Gergen went on to say of Obama: "You're the straight guy here. You're the guy who can tell us the truth. Acknowledge that some things are working better here." But Obama did not refuse to acknowledge that U.S. deaths in Iraq "have been declining steadily since the spring" -- questioner and CNN anchor John Roberts' actual assertion; Obama said that it is "absolutely wrong" to conclude from a decline in violence in Iraq that President Bush's strategy is working.

During the debate, Roberts said, "2007 is the deadliest year so far since 2003 for American forces, but it's also true that U.S. troop deaths have been declining steadily since the spring." He then asked: "Is General David Petraeus correct when he says that the troop increase is bringing security to Iraq?" CNN host Wolf Blitzer later asked Obama the "same question." The senator responded: "There is no doubt that because we put American troops in Iraq, more American troops in Iraq, that they are doing a magnificent job, and they are making a difference in certain neighborhoods." He later added, "If we have seen a lowering violence rate, that's only compared to earlier this year" and that "the notion that somehow because we've gone from horrific violence to just intolerable levels of violence, and that somehow that justifies George Bush's strategy is absolutely wrong."

Moreover, just before Gergen made his claim that Obama "couldn't even acknowledge" that "the death numbers are down," CNN host Anderson Cooper aired a portion of Obama's response during the debate, in which Obama said: "The overall strategy is failed, because we have not seen any change in behavior among Iraq's political leaders, and that is the essence of what we should be trying to do in Iraq." It was during that same response that Obama said U.S. troops "are making a difference in certain neighborhoods."

From the November 15 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360:

COOPER: Obama also weighed in on Iraq strategy. Let's play that.

OBAMA [video clip]: The overall strategy is failed, because we have not seen any change in behavior among Iraq's political leaders, and that is the essence of what we should be trying to do in Iraq.

That's why I'm going to bring this war to a close.

COOPER: David, it didn't seem like the war was as front and center in this debate as it has been in past debates.

GERGEN: No, it was not. I think that's because the surge has had an impact, has reduced the number of casualties. And the temperature has gone down in Iraq. It's no longer, you know, the top story in the news either.

And there's much more fear about Iran. And, of course, because Pakistan is on a knife edge, it's more -- you have less focus on Iraq. And it almost seemed that, when Barack Obama was asked about, is the surge working, he couldn't even acknowledge, hey, look, the death numbers are down. I mean, there is something that's happening here that's important. It had to be -- he had to sort of dismiss it altogether.

And it was sort of like, you know, come on. You're the straight guy here. You're the guy who can tell us the truth. Acknowledge that some things are working better here. And I thought he didn't take advantage of that.

From CNN's November 15 broadcast of the Democratic presidential debate:

ROBERTS: To Governor [Bill] Richardson [NM]: A military police unit from the Nevada National Guard, stationed about 12 miles from here, just left for its third tour of duty in Iraq.

I want to talk to you for just a moment here about the effect of the troop increase over there. It's true that 2007 is the deadliest year so far since 2003 for American forces, but it's also true that U.S. troop deaths have been declining steadily since the spring, and, in fact, in the month of October, they were at their lowest level in nearly two years. At the same time, there has been a marked decline in the number of deaths of Iraqi people.

Is General David Petraeus correct when he says that the troop increase is bringing security to Iraq?

[...]

BLITZER: Senator Obama, I'll put the same question to you.

Is General Petraeus' strategy working?

OBAMA: There is no doubt that because we put American troops in Iraq, more American troops in Iraq, that they are doing a magnificent job, and they are making a difference in certain neighborhoods.

But the overall strategy is failed because we have not seen any change in behavior among Iraq's political leaders, and that is the essence of what we should be trying to do in Iraq.

That's why I'm going to bring this war to a close. That's why we can get our troops out -- our combat troops out within 16 months. That's why we have to initiate the kind of regional diplomacy, not just talking to our friends, but talking to our enemies, like Iran and Syria, to try to stabilize the situation there.

But I just want to make this important point, because all of us as we're campaigning, we're seeing this in human terms. People are on two, three, four tours of duty. Families are carrying an enormous burden.

This year, we saw the highest casualty rates for American troops in Iraq since this war started.

The same, by the way, is true in Afghanistan. If we have seen a lowering violence rate, that's only compared to earlier this year. We're back to where we started back in 2006.

BLITZER: All right.

OBAMA: And so, the notion that somehow because we've gone from horrific violence to just intolerable levels of violence, and that somehow that justifies George Bush's strategy is absolutely wrong, and I'm going to bring it to a halt when I'm president of the United States.

BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.

Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
David Gergen
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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