Worst of the Web Today: Taranto attacked Democrats and the media -- but not Bush -- for politicizing Tal Afar

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

James Taranto attacked Bloomberg News for its article about a suicide bombing in the Iraqi city of Tal Afar that also mentioned President Bush's record-low job approval rating of 31 percent. Taranto went on to attack "the media and the Democratic Party" and praised the Bush administration for "dealing with" Iraq as "a real problem, not merely a political one." However, Taranto did not mention that it was Bush who politicized Tal Afar to begin with -- hyping the city as an Iraq success story despite Tal Afar's rising sectarian conflict.

In his May 10 "Best of the Web Today" column, Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal.com editor James Taranto attacked Bloomberg News for a May 9 article about a suicide bombing in the Iraqi city of Tal Afar that also mentioned President Bush's record-low job approval rating of 31 percent -- according to the most recent USA Today/Gallup poll. Taranto went on to attack "the media and the Democratic Party" in general for making the Iraq war "a proxy for domestic politics," and praised the Bush administration for "dealing with" Iraq as "a real problem, not merely a political one." Absent from Taranto's column, however, was any acknowledgement that it was Bush who politicized Tal Afar to begin with -- hyping the city as an Iraq success story in a March 20 speech despite Tal Afar's rising sectarian conflict.

From Taranto's May 10 column:

Here is a very revealing report from the Bloomberg news service:

At least 17 civilians, including women and children, were killed late today by a suicide truck bombing in Tal Afar, a northwestern Iraqi city, according to President Jalal Talabani's Kurdish political party.

At least 35 others, most of whom were women and children, were wounded after a white pickup truck carrying flour exploded about 8:30 p.m. in the city's marketplace, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan said on its Arabic-language Web site. The perpetrators have not been identified.

The violence came in a city that President George W. Bush has cited as an example of progress in fighting rebels in Iraq.

Bush in March said his confidence in his Iraq strategy stemmed from the success that U.S. and Iraqi personnel have had in Tal Afar, a city of about 290,000 people. The city was a staging ground for insurgents until the U.S. began an offensive in September that stabilized the city "block by block," and allowed people to resume their daily lives, Bush said.

"It took time to understand and adjust to the brutality of the enemy in Iraq," Bush told the City Club of Cleveland on March 20. "Yet the strategy is working."

Bush's job approval rating fell to a record low of 31 percent in a USA Today/Gallup poll. ...

The breezy transition from a terrorist atrocity in Iraq to the president's approval rating is awfully crass, but it's also revealing. For many in the media and the Democratic Party, the Iraq war is merely a proxy for domestic politics. That is, "antiwar" passions are largely the result of anti-Republican, or anti-Bush, passions. Anger over Iraq today is barely distinguishable from anger over impeachment seven years ago or over Florida five years ago.

This is why calls for retreat don't worry us. Bush will be in office for another two years, eight months and 10 days, no more than that. His successor, unlike his critics today, will assume the same immense responsibility that he now shoulders: the responsibility to make decisions that have consequences on the battlefield and in the world, not just in the polls.

When John Kerry* ran for president, his "plan" for Iraq amounted to a continuation of Bush's policies. He emerged as a "courageous dissenter" only after any danger had passed that he might actually have to take responsibility for acting on his stated views.

Three years from now, George W. Bush will have completed the transition from political figure to historical one. Sometime before then (though not, it seems clear, until at least this November), Democrats and journalists will have abandoned their fascination with his poll numbers. Iraq is a real problem, not merely a political one, and the administration is dealing with it as such. In due course others will as well.

* At least he served in Vietnam, unlike John Edwards!

And yet, notwithstanding Taranto's attack on "the media and the Democratic Party" for linking Tal Afar and Iraq to "domestic politics," it was Bush who, at a March 20 speech before the City Club of Cleveland, held up Tal Afar as a "concrete example of progress in Iraq that most Americans do not see every day in their newspapers and on their television screens." In fact, most of Bush's speech was devoted to, as Bush put it, "the story of a northern Iraqi city called Tal Afar, which was once a key base of operations for Al Qaeda and is today a free city that gives reason for hope for a free Iraq." That same day, the White House released a "Fact Sheet" titled, "Strategy for Victory: Clear, Hold, and Build," which focused primarily on Tal Afar.

Bush's rhetoric on Tal Afar, however, did not accurately depict the situation on the ground. As Media Matters for America noted, at the time Bush was hyping Tal Afar as "a free city that gives reason for hope for a free Iraq," The Washington Post reported that Tal Afar was experiencing both heightened conflict and an Al Qaeda resurgence. The paper noted, in its March 21 report, that correspondents who had recently interviewed residents of Tal Afar had noted "continuing anxiety in the streets" stemming from new insurgent attacks and sectarian clashes.

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