Fox News' Hume, Baier uncritically aired Bush's claim on troop withdrawals

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

On Special Report, Bret Baier uncritically aired President Bush's statement that "[i]f the kind of success we are now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces" in Iraq. But neither Baier nor host Brit Hume noted that regardless of the level of security in Iraq -- as Wendell Goler reported on Special Report the previous day -- Bush's "military advisers have told him he can't keep the current deployment in Iraq beyond April or the Army itself will suffer."

On the September 4 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, chief White House correspondent Bret Baier uncritically aired President Bush's statement during a September 3 speech in Iraq that "[i]f the kind of success we are now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces." Host Brit Hume introduced the segment by stating that "President Bush's surprise Labor Day visit to Iraq may have raised not only the morale of American troops but their hopes as well, with his mention of a possible drawdown," and Baier reported that Bush's statement "raised eyebrows and prompted questions." But neither Hume nor Baier noted that regardless of the level of security in Iraq -- as Fox News White House correspondent Wendell Goler reported on Special Report the previous day -- Bush's "military advisers have told him he can't keep the current deployment in Iraq beyond April or the Army itself will suffer."

From the September 3 edition of Special Report:

GOLER: In a rally to soldiers and Marines, Mr. Bush made clear he won't reduce their numbers if he feels security would suffer.

BUSH: In other words, when we begin to draw down troops from Iraq, it will be from a position of strength and success, not from a position of fear and failure.

GOLER: His military advisers have told him he can't keep the current deployment in Iraq beyond April or the Army itself will suffer. But aides say the president may only go back to pre-surge numbers.

Indeed, as Media Matters for America has documented, the Associated Press reported in an August 15 article that Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq, stated during an interview: "We know that the surge has to come to an end. There's no question about that." Petraeus continued: "I think everyone understands that by about a year or so from now we've got to be a good bit smaller than we are right now. The question is how do you do that ... so that you can retain the gains we have fought so hard to achieve and so you can keep going."

In a September 4 interview with ABC News chief White House correspondent Martha Raddatz, Petraeus added: "There are limits to what our military can provide, so, my recommendations have to be informed by -- not driven by -- but they have to be informed by the strain we have put on our military services." Additionally, in a portion of the interview broadcast on the September 4 edition of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson, Raddatz asserted: "It seems by doing the math, you have to start drawing down by the end of March if not sooner or you create a real strain on the Army." Petraeus responded: "Wait for the recommendations, please. But, again, your calculations are about right."

Similarly, the Los Angeles Times reported in an August 24 article that Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Peter Pace "is expected to advise President Bush to reduce the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half." The article continued: "Administration and military officials say Marine Gen. Peter Pace is likely to convey concerns by the Joint Chiefs that keeping well in excess of 100,000 troops in Iraq through 2008 will severely strain the military."

From the September 4 edition of Fox News' Special Report:

HUME: But first, President Bush's surprise Labor Day visit to Iraq may have raised not only the morale of American troops but their hopes as well, with his mention of a possible drawdown. The commander in chief tried to encourage Iraqi political leaders, and he noted what he called significant military progress in recent months. Chief White House correspondent Bret Baier reports.

[begin video clip]

BAIER: After about seven hours on the ground in Iraq, meetings with Iraqi leaders, and a speech to troops, one sentence from President Bush raised eyebrows and prompted questions.

BUSH: If the kind of success we are now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces.

BAIER: Soon after he boarded Air Force One, President Bush invited reporters to a conference room for a 30-minute chat about his day in Iraq. He said his reference to a troop drawdown was intended to point out what's possible since security has improved. Quote, "The situation has changed where I'm able to speculate on the hypothetical, especially since our troops have been there for only two months. Isn't that remarkable?"

The president marks the official start of the surge as June, when all of the additional forces were in place. While touting security improvements, he didn't say how many troops could be pulled out or when. After meeting with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, President Bush described the two leaders' relationship as comfortable, saying Maliki is evolving as a leader.

Then the president added that it has been hard to find a truly unifying Iraqi leader after decades of Saddam Hussein's brutal dictatorship. Quote, "There's a great line somebody said, 'Now where's Nelson Mandela when we need him?' The Nelson Mandelas of Iraq," he said, "are dead because Saddam Hussein made sure that if they didn't escape the country, they were dead."

Today, U.S. commanders released some of the positive statistics that were briefed to President Bush and will likely be part of General David Petraeus' report to Congress next week. Security incidents or attacks are down roughly 40 percent since the troop surge began. Sectarian attacks in and around Baghdad have been cut in half since December of last year. The number of weapons caches found in 2006 was 2,700. That number has jumped to 4,300 in the past eight months.

MAJ. GEN. KEVIN BERGNER (Multi-National Force-Iraq): And that's a reflection of the cooperation of the Iraqi people. It's a reflection of the effectiveness of the Iraqi Security Forces. And it's a direct reflection of the offensive nature of our operations.

BAIER: After a long trip from Iraq, President Bush arrived in Australia for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, the APEC Summit, where the debate over the war will follow him. Australian Prime Minister John Howard continues to be a staunch supporter, despite the fact that Howard's decision to keep 1,600 Aussie troops dedicated to the Iraq war is controversial here, so much so Howard is facing an aggressive election challenge from Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd, who wants to pull all Aussie troops out of Iraq.

President Bush will meet with Rudd here as well.

[end video clip]

BAIER: While the Iraq situation has been dominating attention, the APEC summit here will essentially focus on expanding trade and trying to deal with climate change. The rise of China's influence is also a major issue. President Bush meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao Thursday. Brit.

HUME: Bret, thank you. Back in Washington, Congress today received a harsher evaluation of the situation in Iraq than the one President Bush suggested. That gave both sides ammunition in a practice round for the fierce debate expected next week when Congress hears from the ambassador and the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

From the September 3 edition of Special Report:

ANGLE: Welcome to Washington. I'm Jim Angle, in for Brit Hume. President Bush slipped out of town yesterday, but not for a holiday. He secretly headed to Iraq in hopes of highlighting recent successes and in an effort to light a fire under Iraqi leaders to follow the example set in one particular province. The president also suggested there could be some changes in U.S. troop levels. White House correspondent Wendell Goler reports on the president's surprise visit to one of Iraq's most improved regions.

[begin video clip]

GOLER: The president went to Anbar Province, where the U.S. strategy in Iraq is having its most visible success, and he said if the achievements there can be expanded to other parts of the country, some U.S. troops can come home.

BUSH: General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker tell me if the kind of success we are now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces.

GOLER: Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces, will try to convince Congress next week not to pull the plug on the Baghdad surge. Aides say it was important for the president to see firsthand the progress the soldiers and Marines are making, and they say the Petraeus-Crocker report is the starting point for a debate over whether security progress can continue with fewer forces.

In a rally to soldiers and Marines, Mr. Bush made clear he won't reduce their numbers if he feels security would suffer.

BUSH: In other words, when we begin to draw down troops from Iraq, it will be from a position of strength and success, not from a position of fear and failure.

GOLER: His military advisers have told him he can't keep the current deployment in Iraq beyond April or the Army itself will suffer. But aides say the president may only go back to pre-surge numbers. Mr. Bush took his entire national security team, Secretary of State Rice and Defense Secretary Bob Gates and outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace.

From the September 4 edition of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:

RADDATZ: The general also understands that drawdowns are necessary to avoid even longer deployments.

RADDATZ: It seems by doing the math, you have to start drawing down by the end of March if not sooner or you create a real strain on the Army.

PETRAEUS: Wait for the recommendations, please. But, again, I mean, your calculations are about right.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Person
Brit Hume, Bret Baier
Show/Publication
Special Report with Brit Hume
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