Fox News' Sean Hannity falsely claimed that President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said they believe that in 18 months, "the new [Iraqi] prime minister [Nuri Kamal al-Maliki] will have security forces capable of taking control of all Iraqi provinces." But neither Bush nor Blair made such a statement. Responding to a reporter's question about whether it is "realistic to think that Iraqi forces will be able to take control of all Iraq by the end of next year," Bush did not address the issue, while Blair merely said it is "possible."
On the May 25 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, co-host Sean Hannity lamented that the "headline" on articles covering President George W. Bush's and British Prime Minister Tony Blair's May 25 joint press conference "is going to be 'Bush and Blair acknowledge setbacks.' " Hannity claimed that "the bigger issue" to emerge from the press conference was that the two leaders "believe in 18 months that the new [Iraqi] prime minister [Nuri Kamal al-Maliki] will have security forces capable of taking control of all Iraqi provinces." According to Hannity: "That means we really are beginning to see the beginning of the end here." However, neither Bush nor Blair made such a statement. Responding to a reporter's question about whether it is "realistic to think that Iraqi forces will be able to take control of all Iraq by the end of next year," Bush did not address the issue, while Blair merely said it is "possible."
On May 24, Maliki told Blair that "the Iraqis could take over the whole country in 18 months," as Newsday reported on May 25.
From the May 25 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
HANNITY: You know, I just have a sneaky suspicion in some of my reading of the wires, [Fox News host] Colonel [Oliver North], the headline I think is going to be "Bush and Blair acknowledge setbacks." I see a bigger issue here that came out of this press conference: that the president believes, Tony Blair believed in 18 months that the new prime minister will have security forces capable of taking control of all Iraqi provinces. That means we really are beginning see the beginning of the end here.
HANNITY: Congressman [Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)], do you not think it's a good thing we now have -- the people of Iraq have voted on multiple occasions. We have the formation of a government now in place. And Tony Blair, as he informed us tonight, that they're going to be capable of securing that country and every single Iraqi province in 18 months. Is that a good thing, sir?
Later in the program, syndicated columnist and Fox News political analyst Robert D. Novak agreed with Hannity's statement about Bush and Blair:
HANNITY: It's funny, as I -- just about every liberal I hear speak, and they're all saying the same thing here tonight. I think a lot of news came out of this press conference. Beyond the headline that I think we'll hear a lot of, is that, yeah, mistakes were made. But they've been made in every conflict that I can think of in the history of warfare, unfortunately. But the people of Iraq now voted on numerous occasions. A government has been formed. They're saying in 18 months that their security forces will be able to be in charge of every province there. That basically, I think what the president and the prime minister are saying here is that we're now beginning -- we're going to finish this job, see it through to the end, but we see an end in sight. That's what I took out of it.
NOVAK: Well, think that's what they are saying. But as somebody who has been -- who was a Cold War hawk and a right-winger, as you know, Sean, I've always been skeptical about this war, whether it was the right war in the right place at the right time, and what I do believe is that we cannot stay there indefinitely.
Despite Hannity's firm statements, however, Bush did not address the prospect of total Iraqi military control in 18 months, while Blair said only that it was "possible." From Bush's and Blair's joint May 25 press conference:
QUESTION: Mr. President, Pentagon officials have talked about prospects for reducing American forces in Iraq to about 100,000 by year's end. Does the formation of a unity government in Iraq put you on a sound footing to achieve that number?
And Mr. Prime Minister, is it realistic to think that Iraqi forces will be able to take control of all Iraq by the end of next year as Mr. Malaki suggests?
BUSH: First of all, we're going to work with our partners in Iraq, the new government, to determine the best way forward in achieving an objective, which is an Iraq that can govern itself and sustain itself and defend itself.
I have said to the American people, as the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down. But I've also said that our commanders on the ground will make that decision. And I have -- we'll talk to General [George W.] Casey [Jr., commanding general of the Multi-National Force in Iraq] once he is -- conferred with the new government of Iraq. They don't have a defense minister yet; they're in the process of getting a defense minister. So it probably makes a lot of sense for our commander on the ground to wait until their defense structure is set up before we discuss with them, and he with me, the force levels necessary to achieve our objective.
QUESTION: So the 100,000 --
BUSH: That's some speculation in the press that I -- they haven't talked to me about. And as the Commander-in-Chief, they eventually will talk to me about it. But the American people need to know that we'll keep the force level there necessary to win. And it's important for the American people to know that politics isn't going to make the decision as to the size of our force level. The conditions on the ground will make the decision. And part of the conditions on the ground, Terry, is a new government, and we believe the new government is going to make a big difference in the lives of the Iraqi people.
I told you earlier that when you attack an Iraqi now, you're at war with an Iraqi government that's constitutionally elected. And that's a different attitude from the way it's been in the past.
BLAIR: I think it's possible for the Iraqi security forces to take control progressively of their country. That's exactly the strategy we've outlined at the beginning. And I think it's possible to happen in the way that Prime Minister Maliki said. For that to happen, obviously, the first thing that we need is a strong government in Baghdad that is prepared to enforce its writ throughout the country. My very strong feeling, having talked to the leaders there, is that they intend theirs to be such a government.