Fox News host Sean Hannity and NBC News White House correspondent Kelly O'Donnell both suggested that President Bush's statements that "America's commitment [in Iraq] is not open-ended" and that the "Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November" amounted to a timetable for withdrawal. However, Bush set no conditions on the U.S. military's involvement in Iraq during his January 10 prime-time speech, as various news reports have noted.
On the January 10 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Hannity built on former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's (R) assertion that Bush offered a "new strategy" by claiming that Bush said "it's not open-ended. And he said that there's going to be a period of time." Later, when former Iowa governor and 2008 presidential candidate Tom Vilsack (D) claimed that "[t]his is simply the same old strategy with just 20,000 more lives at risk," Hannity disagreed, asserting that Bush "said it's not open-ended. Talked about a timetable, which hadn't been discussed before."
On the January 11 edition of NBC's Today, O'Donnell uncritically reported Bush's statement that the "commitment is not open-ended." Moments later, O'Donnell asserted that Bush had made a "stark change" because he previously "rejected setting timetables saying that would 'help the enemy' " but announced during his speech that the Iraqi government "plans to take responsibility ... by November."
Various media reports noted that Bush's statements in his speech do not constitute time limits or conditions. On the January 10 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, reading from excerpts of Bush's speech, CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux referred to the "open-ended" comment as "the big question." Malveaux continued: "What does that mean? What is the timetable? We understand the president, of course, is going to say he would hope that the Iraqi troops are able to secure their country by November. But in terms of whether or not there's a plan B, this administration cannot answer that question." A January 10 Associated Press article released after the speech noted that Bush "put no deadlines on Baghdad." A January 11 Washington Post article noted that for other goals Bush put forward, Bush "proposed no penalties for failing to comply with these milestones -- on the theory, his aides said, that it would be counterproductive to be seen as dictating terms to the Iraqi government." The article also noted that Bush put forward no timetable for the withdrawal of 21,500 additional troops being sent to Iraq.
Additionally, neither Hannity nor O'Donnell noted that Bush's supposed "timetable" actually delayed the Iraqi government's previously announced goal for assuming control over security in Iraq. As a December 5, 2006, Associated Press article noted, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki told ABC News that "I can tell you that by next June, our forces will take over the security of the country."
From the January 10 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:
MALVEAUX: Another important point here. He says in another excerpt, "I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people."
And Lou, that really is the big question. What does that mean? What is the timetable?
We understand the president, of course, is going to say he would hope that the Iraqi troops are able to secure their country by November. But in terms of whether or not there's a plan B, this administration cannot answer that question.
From the January 10 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
GIULIANI: The new strategy will be a sufficient number of soldiers and troops, mostly Iraqi but also American, to hold areas. And I hope -- I mean, the thing I would add to it is, a lot of accountability. I think you need measures. You need statistics. You need to be able to determine whether or not you've brought the violence down. If it doesn't work, then you got to put more people in.
HANNITY: Yeah. You know, and he said it's not open-ended. And he said that there's going to be a period of time. And this is time for Maliki and the Iraqis to step up.
VILSACK: It's obvious that the president has only been listening to advisers that agree with him. And I strongly disagree with folks who say this is a change of strategy, this is a new strategy. This is simply the same old strategy with just 20,000 more lives at risk.
And I honestly believe that it's time for the American public to speak. They are ultimately the boss in all of this. It is pretty clear the American public is not sold on this plan, and I think it's important for the American public to speak strongly and with a very -- a single voice, that, "Mr. President, we do not support an escalation in Iraq. This is not the way to win in Iraq."
The way to win in Iraq is to give the Iraqis the accountability and the responsibility for their own nation, and it's long overdue.
HANNITY: Well, the president was very clear. And I couldn't disagree with you more in terms of this being a different plan. He said it's not open-ended. Talked about a timetable, which hadn't been discussed before. Also gave very specific information about what's going to be different this time, including oil-revenue sharing, going into the neighborhoods, holding, not leaving.
From the January 11 edition of NBC's Today:
O'DONNELL: And gone was his repeated pledge to stay in Iraq as long as it takes.
BUSH: I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended.
O'DONNELL: Another stark change for President Bush. He had long rejected setting timetables, saying that would "help the enemy." But now?
BUSH: To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November.