Media ignored Bush administration flip-flops on U.S. troop level increases in Iraq

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

On December 1, Pentagon officials announced that the United States would increase the number of its troops in Iraq by nearly 12,000, raising the total number of American troops in Iraq to 150,000, the highest level to date. The increases are in the form of tour extensions for about 10,400 Marines and soldiers already in Iraq, and the deployment of 1,500 paratroopers to Iraq. Brigadier General David Rodriguez, the deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that the troop levels were increased "to support the [January 30, 2005, Iraqi] elections and continue to keep pressure on the insurgency." The increases are inconsistent with past Bush administration promises concerning troop levels in Iraq. While several publications held the current administration accountable for past errors and misjudgments, many did not.

This story was covered on December 2 by most major newspapers, including: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Baltimore Sun, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, the Philadelphia Daily News, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and USA Today. A Knight Ridder story on the troop level increase ran in the Detroit Free Press, The Kansas City Star, The Miami Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and the San Jose Mercury News. The Washington Times also ran a story, and the Associated Press offered a story to its clients.

The troop level increases are inconsistent with the following past statements and claims from the Bush administration:

Troop level estimates

Bush administration officials made numerous pre-war claims and predictions concerning troop levels that would be required in Iraq in the aftermath of the spring 2003 fall of Baghdad. On February 27, 2003, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz rejected the claim of then-Army chief of staff General Eric Shinseki, now retired, who predicted that "Something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers ... would be required" to provide adequate security in a post-invasion Iraq. Wolfowitz said that Shinseki was "wildly off the mark," and that he was "reasonably certain that they [the Iraqis] will greet us as liberators, and that will help us to keep [troop] requirements down." Wolfowitz's position was shared by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who predicted that post-war troop levels would be lower than what was required for the invasion of Iraq.

According to a March 3, 2003, CNN report, "Rumsfeld said the post-war troop commitment would be less than the number of troops required to win the war. He also said 'the idea that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. forces, I think, is far from the mark.'"

Specifically, Pentagon officials announced a plan in the weeks following the fall of Baghdad to lower U.S. troop levels in Iraq to 30,000 by the fall of 2003.

The Los Angeles Times, Newsday, and The Associated Press all cited the early misjudgments of the Bush administration with regard to troop levels in Iraq. Newsday also quoted Vice President Dick Cheney as saying we would be "greeted as liberators." Both The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun cited Wolfowitz's February, 2003 rebuff of Shinseki. And while The Chicago Tribune's December 2 article (registration required) on increased troop levels did not mention Shinseki's troop level predictions, a December 3 Tribune article did. The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun also noted the unmet troop-reduction goals of past war plans, as did The Boston Globe.

12-month tours of duty

Retired general and former Army vice chief of staff John Keane, appearing with Rumsfeld at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, announced on July 22, 2003, that the Pentagon had "decided to go to a 12-month tour for the forces that are currently in Iraq and for those that would come into Iraq - with some exceptions." According to the Defense Department transcript of the interview with Keane and Rumsfeld, Keane said:

Well, first of all, we recognize that the situation in Iraq with the current level of violence demands the force level that we currently have. And, with that recognition, we also want to build in some predictability for our soldiers who are there. So, as opposed to having it condition-based, which is what we did, we've decided to go to a 12-month tour for the forces that are currently in Iraq and for those that would come into Iraq -- with some exceptions. Exceptions being the 3rd Infantry Division ... its remaining brigades who would leave in September. That would mean one brigade would have 12 months and the other one would have nine. And, also, for the Marine division that's in place, which will leave when the Polish division takes its place, which will probably be about that timeframe. I mean, don't hold us to the exact week or month, but it will be in that timeframe. Everybody else will stay 12 months.

The New York Times pointed out that the tour extensions for roughly 10,400 troops already in Iraq is a departure from the Army's "pledge to keep troops on the ground in Iraq for no more than 12 months," and that the increased need for American forces was not expected by many military officials and was made necessary, in part, by "the poor performance by many newly trained Iraqi security forces in the face of rebel assaults." The Times also noted that this was the third time that deployments for soldiers in Iraq have been extended. The Washington Post similarly noted the increased troop levels represented the third extension of troop deployments, as did The Boston Globe.

Iraqi troops providing election security

In September, General John Abizaid, commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), said that more troops would be needed in Iraq, but that "it is our belief that those troops will be Iraqi troops" rather than American troops. A September 24, 2004, Washington Post article on the need for increased troops levels to protect the January election processes quoted Abizaid:

"I think we will need more troops than we currently have to secure the elections process in Iraq that will probably take place in the end of January," Abizaid said after a closed-door briefing with legislators about the state of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, he added, "it is our belief that those troops will be Iraqi troops." Also, he said, there may be more international troops.

So, Abizaid concluded, "I don't foresee a need for more American troops, but we can't discount it."

Only The Boston Globe and The Kansas City Star mentioned Abizaid's belief that Iraqi troops would provide election security.

The following newspapers made little or no mention of how the troop level increases conflict with past U.S. war plans. At best, they made passing references to 12-month tours, or cursory references to Iraqi security forces:

  • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution alluded to the Army's "goal" of 12-month tours of duty, saying, "The extensions mean that many of the soldiers will be in Iraq for 14 months rather than 12, which has been the Army's goal. Rodriguez said the extensions were intended to provide commanders with experienced troops."
  • The Detroit Free Press, The Miami Herald (registration required), The Philadelphia Inquirer (registration required), and the San Jose Mercury News (registration required) all ran a Knight Ridder story on the troop level increase that noted: "Combat tours in Iraq are generally limited to 12 months. Under the plan, those currently in Iraq would remain up to 14 months."
  • A December 2 article in the Chicago Tribune (registration required) mentioned that Iraqi forces were poorly suited to provide security for the Iraqi elections:
    In recent months, Iraq's interim government and the U.S. military have stepped up recruitment and training of Iraqi troops in the hope that they could play a larger role as the Jan. 30 vote approaches. But recent rebel attacks have targeted Iraqi forces, undercutting their ability to assume as much of a burden as some had envisioned.

The Philadelphia Daily News, USA Today, and The Washington Times failed to mention any of the administration's prior inconsistent positions.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Stories/Interests
American Military Capability
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