Thursday, June 14, 2007

It's All About The Spin

Three newspapers gave front page coverage to the 46 page report released by the Pentagon yesterday on levels of violence in Iraq since the start of Preznut Bush's surge strategy. Two of these papers seemed to be suggesting the surge is NOT working while one led with very optimistic spin from General Petraeus about how great things are going (with a few caveats, of course.)

Here's the lede from the Washington Post:

Three months into the new U.S. military strategy that has sent tens of thousands of additional troops into Iraq, overall levels of violence in the country have not decreased, as attacks have shifted away from Baghdad and Anbar, where American forces are concentrated, only to rise in most other provinces, according to a Pentagon report released yesterday.

Here's the LA Times on the same story:

WASHINGTON — Violence in Iraq rose slightly in the three months ended in May because of increased attacks in cities and provinces that had been relatively peaceful before the Bush administration's troop buildup, the Pentagon reported Wednesday.

The intense focus on Baghdad and western Iraq by newly arriving U.S. troops pushed insurgent groups into other regions, causing a rise in violence in northern and eastern provinces such as Diyala and Nineveh, the Pentagon said in a quarterly report to Congress on Iraqi security.

Now here's an administration-friendlier version of the story from USA Today:

BAGHDAD — When Gen. David Petraeus drives through the streets of Iraq's capital, he sees "astonishing signs of normalcy" in half, perhaps two-thirds of Baghdad.

"I'm talking about professional soccer leagues with real grass field stadiums, several amusement parks — big ones, markets that are very vibrant," says Petraeus, commander of the roughly 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The scenes provide a sign that the new strategy in Iraq is working, although many problems remain, he told USA TODAY in an interview Wednesday.

Five months after President Bush ordered an increase of 20,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, data suggest that sectarian violence in Baghdad has declined. Other tentative signs of progress have included a rise in Iraqi army enlistments and some quality-of-life improvements such as fewer electricity blackouts in the capital.

However, U.S. military casualties have jumped to record-high levels as more troops are put in harm's way. Violence has surged in some areas outside the capital. Iraq's government has yet to pass any of the major legislative changes that Bush said were necessary for an enduring peace between the Sunni and Shiite sects.

The USA Today article goes on to report these "possible signs of progress" from Iraq:

•Iraq's army. The Iraqi army currently has 152,500 trained and equipped soldiers, nearly 20,000 more troops than were on the rosters in January, according to the U.S. State Department. Another 20,000 soldiers will be added to the ranks this year, the U.S. military says.

The Army now has its own Iraqi-run basic training and leadership schools. "The Iraqi army has, in general, done quite well in the face of some really serious challenges," Petraeus says. "In certain areas it really is very heartening to see what it has done."

•Anbar province. This area in the heart of the Sunni Triangle has been held up by the U.S. military as a model for Iraq. "The progress in Anbar has actually been breathtaking," Petraeus says.

Commanders credit much of the success to the U.S. military's decision to arm, train and organize Sunni provincial militias that have turned against al-Qaeda militants operating in the area.


•Sectarian violence. The number of unidentified bodies found in Baghdad — an indicator of sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims — dropped from a high of 1,782 in October to 411 in April, according to an Interior Ministry official who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The body count spiked to 726 in May. So far this month, the numbers are again on a "downward trend," Petraeus says. Although the bombing Wednesday of a major Shiite shrine in Samarra raises the risk of a new outbreak of sectarian violence, he says.

McClatchy reviewed the surge strategy last Friday and found results a lot more dismal than USA Today did, however. Here's some of that report:

WASHINGTON - Three months after additional U.S. troops began pouring into Baghdad in the most recent effort to stanch violence in Iraq's capital, military observers are fretting that the same problems that torpedoed last summer's Baghdad security plan are cropping up again.

Violence is on the rise, Iraqi troops aren't showing up to secure neighborhoods, U.S. troops are having to revisit neighborhoods they'd already cleared, and Iraq's politicians haven't met any of their benchmarks.

With expectations high in Washington for a September assessment from new Iraq commander Army Gen. David Petraeus, military officials in Iraq already are saying they'll need more time.

One thing is already clear, however: The additional U.S. troops haven't yet had a major impact on reducing violence.

The number of bodies found on Baghdad's streets declined in March and April after the surge began on Feb. 15, but it shot back up to an even higher level in May. So far this month, 206 unidentified corpses have been found in the capital, compared with 176 in the first eight days of May.

Some question whether any plan can create an Iraqi force that would allow the U.S. to begin drawing down troop levels in Iraq any time soon.

"The U.S. commitment level is there. But we are still seeing the same thing where the Iraqis haven't shown up the way they were supposed to. It's the same problem (as last year) and that problem hasn't been fixed," said Jeffrey White, a military analyst for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The Iraqi forces "still can't come in large scale and replace us."


The surge also hasn't met its non-military goal of giving the Iraqi government time to reach agreements on key political issues, such as how to distribute Iraq's oil revenues and whether to let former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party work for the government.

The Iraqi government has missed every interim deadline set by U.S. officials and has made little progress toward 18 benchmarks that Congress has ordered Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker to report on in September.

One thing to note about the two reports - USA Today had an "exclusive" interview with General David Petreaus to use in their article while Juan Cole notes that a McClatchy newspaper reporter was rebuffed by Defense Secretary Gates and not invited on a fly-over of Iraq.

In any case, as Kevin Drum blogged here, the spin coming from the administration and its allies is a desperate attempt to try and pull back expectations that September is some kind of "accountability moment" for the surge strategy (even though it was administration allies in the first place that put that notion out there in the public domain.) They keep saying that the full complement of surge troops didn't arrive until the end of May so any gauge of how the strategy is working will take months and months to figure. And then they keep trying to plant their own positive spin in the newspapers with the help of friendly reporters ("Sure violence is up in three provinces, USA Today, but it's down in two!!!")

It's all about the spin - make believe things are better, continue to criticize or shut out news outlets that report facts and conditions on the ground (note Bill O'Reilly's latest tirade that news organizations shouldn't report bombings and other violence from Iraq because such incidents are "meaningless") and hope Americans get so tied up in their summer vacation plans and tanking housing markets that they stop paying attention to the war.

Given the dismal poll numbers in the latest WSJ/NBC News poll for both the preznut and the Congress, however, I doubt that is going to happen. People know this war is going badly, they're angry that Dems in Congress couldn't or wouldn't do anything to stop it and are really mad that the Boy King continues to escalate the war like it's 1967.

They're so busy spinning Iraq, it's a wonder they have time to ratchet up the pressure for war with Iran. They've now decided to use their power to fine companies that do business with Iraq -- not just US companies, but companies anywhere in the world. Since China is looking to negotiate for the right to develop Iran's natural gas reserves, Bush seems to think he has legitimate jurisdiction to fine the companies involved. Can you imagine Bejing's response?

President Bush, the ambasador from the People's Republic of China:

Ah, Honorable President Bush, I have a message from the Chairman. He says, "Blow it out your ass, Jughead. So sorry."
I wonder how "Blow it out your ass, Jughead" sounds in Mandarin?

Ironically, Halliburton and its subsidiaries are still trading w/ Iran though.
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