Brett Baier reported that President Bush had "praised the report and the members on the Iraq Study Group [ISG] for tying any withdrawal to commanders' assessment of the conditions on the ground in Iraq." In fact, the ISG's recommendations run counter to Bush's policies and assumptions regarding U.S. troop presence in Iraq.
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On the December 7 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson, Fox News chief White House correspondent Brett Baier claimed that, during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Bush had "praised the report and the members on the Iraq Study Group [ISG] for tying any withdrawal to commanders' assessment of the conditions on the ground in Iraq." But Baier failed to note that the ISG's recommendations run counter to Bush's policies and assumptions regarding U.S. troop presence in Iraq.
Baier appeared to be referring to the answer Bush gave when asked: "And back to the issue of the troops, is it possible to get them out of Iraq by early 2008, as the [ISG] report talks about?" Bush replied that the "the report said" that withdrawal would be "depending upon conditions" and added that "commanders will be making recommendations based upon whether or not we're achieving our stated objective" of an Iraqi "government which can sustain, govern, and defend itself." Indeed, the ISG report does include a conditional, which states that "[b]y the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq."
But Baier failed to note that the report also recommends, that "[i]f the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government." Additionally, Recommendation 20 of the report states: "If the Iraqi government demonstrates political will and makes substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance, the United States should make clear its willingness to continue training, assistance, and support for Iraq's security forces, and to continue political, military, and economic support for the Iraqi government."
In other words, the Bush administration's policy, which Bush hinted at in answering the question, has assumed that U.S. support, including troop presence, will continue until conditions improve, while the ISG report recommends that U.S. "political, military, or economic support" should be reduced unless conditions improve.
From the December 7 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:
JOHN GIBSON (host): That is tonight's "Big Story." President Bush agreed with the bipartisan panel that we need a new way forward in Iraq at a news conference at the White House today. It was a joint event with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The news conference comes one day after the Iraq Study Group released its report that calls for major policy changes overseas. Members of that group testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee today about their findings and their 79 recommendations.
Fox's chief White House correspondent Bret Baier has it all covered live from the White House -- Bret.
BAIER: Hey, John. The president's in the process of changing course in Iraq. And he said today he couldn't really do that without consulting his closest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Now, the president said he will not take all of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations. But senior aides tell us that we will know which recommendations he will take before Christmas, as he will lay that out in a formal presentation.
Today, the president and the prime minister said the lessons from the Iraq Study Group report are the need to support Iraq's government fully, to get Iraq's neighbors to do the same, and to work harder to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
You'll remember that the Iraq Study Group report described the situation in Iraq as "grave and deteriorating". Well, the president today called the situation "unsettling," then was pressed by a British reporter if he was really in denial about the true situation on the ground.
BUSH [video clip]: Not only do I know how important it is to prevail, I believe we will prevail. I understand how hard it is to prevail. But I also want the American people to understand that, if we were to fail, and one way to assure failure is just to quit, is not to adjust and say it's just not worth it. If we were to fail, that failed policy will come to hurt generations of Americans in the future.
BAIER: The president praised the report and the members on the Iraq Study Group for tying any withdrawal to commanders' assessment of the conditions on the ground in Iraq.
As for the specific recommendation to engage directly in talks with Syria and Iran, the president didn't fully rule that out as far as regional talks, but he set the bar very high. And British Prime Minister Tony Blair also questioned the motivation of those two countries.
BLAIR [video clip]: In other words, you support the democratic elected government, you do not support sectarians, and you do not support, arm, or finance terrorists.
Now, the very reason we have problems in parts of Iraq -- and we know this very well down in the south of Iraq -- is that Iran, for example, has been doing that. It's been basically arming, financing, supporting terrorism. So we've got to be clear on the basis upon which we take this forward.
BAIER: Prime Minister Blair is heading to the Middle East in coming days to try to restart peace talks there, something he says is directly tied to the Iraq situation, something the administration here says could help calm the broader Middle East -- John.
GIBSON: Bret Baier at the White House. Bret, thanks very much.