Supporters of the Iraq war -- rather than waiting for testimony by Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker on the effect of President Bush's troop increase in Iraq -- have engaged in a campaign to convince the media and public that progress is being made in Iraq and that the "surge" is "working." Media Matters has compiled some of the most pervasive myths and falsehoods advanced by opponents of withdrawal in service of the "surge is working" message, which many in the media have been complicit in perpetuating.
The week of September 10, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq, and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker are expected to testify before Congress on the effect of President Bush's troop increase in Iraq, to be followed by a written report submitted by the White House. Bush announced on January 10 that he was sending "more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq." Since then, the Bush administration and the congressional Republican leadership have thwarted efforts by Democrats and other proponents of legislating a timeline for withdrawal to enact legislation to begin withdrawing U.S. troops, arguing that no action should be taken until Congress hears from Petraeus and Crocker.
But supporters of the war have not simply bided their time awaiting Petraeus' and Crocker's appearances before Congress. Rather, they have engaged in a campaign starting midsummer to convince the media and public that progress is being made in Iraq. President Bush, members of the administration, Republicans, and other advocates of the president's escalation policy have been laying the groundwork for the case that the "surge" is "working" and it is premature to commence withdrawal. Many in the media have been complicit in the administration's PR offensive: ignoring that a crucial criterion for the success of the administration's strategy -- political progress in Iraq -- has in the assessment of people inside and outside the administration not occurred; repeating administration claims of military progress while ignoring evidence to the contrary; repeating distortions of comments by Democrats to claim that they acknowledge the surge is working; characterizing proponents of a withdrawal timeline as calling for a "precipitous" withdrawal; and uncritically repeating the widely dismissed claim by Bush and administration supporters that the terrorists will follow us home if the U.S. withdraws from Iraq.
Some of the most pervasive myths and falsehoods that many in the media have been complicit in perpetuating are set out below:
Myth: "The surge is working"
In recent weeks, the media have essentially allowed advocates of the president's "surge" policy to redefine the criteria on which the strategy's success would be evaluated, ignoring the Bush administration's own acknowledgment of the importance of national political progress to the overall success of its strategy. Bush specifically cited the need for political progress back in January, and the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act of 2007 passed in May provides the benchmarks with which progress is to be measured.
On the August 20 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Brit Hume said that "evidence mounts that the troop surge is working as planned." An August 16 editorial in Investor's Business Daily was headlined, "A Surge of Success." And on the August 21 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, U.S. News & World Report editor-in-chief Mortimer B. Zuckerman asserted: "[T]he fact is that, by far, the consensus is that the surge is working." However, by the administration's own standards, the national political reconciliation that the Bush administration identified as essential for the success of its escalation strategy has not occurred.
As Media Matters has noted, when announcing his so-called surge strategy in January, Bush specifically stated that success had to be measured in terms of military progress and political progress by the Iraqi government on the benchmarks established by the United States. Bush declared that "[a] successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations" and will include a political component: "hold[ing] the Iraqi government to the benchmarks [America] has announced." Furthermore, when appearing on the August 5 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told host Tim Russert that "a successful outcome in Iraq requires political reconciliation. There's no question about that," and that "[a]t some point there has to be reconciliation at the national level." On the February 25 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice argued, "The president's been clear with [the Iraqi leaders] that these political reconciliation measures are at the core of success for Iraq." Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, while testifying before a July 31 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on his nomination to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated, "I still maintain that if we aren't making progress in [the Iraqi political] realm the prospects for movement in a positive direction are not very good."
However, on August 21, Crocker said reconciliation is not occurring. As an August 21 McClatchy Newspapers article reported, Crocker said: "The progress on the national level issues has been extremely disappointing and frustrating to all concerned -- to us, to Iraqis, to the Iraqi leadership itself." During his August 5 appearance on Meet the Press, Gates said the political aspect is "a disappointing picture for the central government right now, but there are some positive things happening at the local level." After returning from a trip to Iraq in mid-August, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) noted that "[t]he purpose of the surge, by its own terms, was to have the -- give the opportunity to the Iraqi leaders to reach some political settlements. They have failed to do that. They have totally and utterly failed." In addition, the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stated that national political reconciliation has not occurred. The NIE, portions of which were released on August 23, stated that "to date, Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively" and concluded that "the Iraqi Government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months." According to the NIE: "Broadly accepted political compromises required for sustained security, long-term political progress, and economic development are unlikely to emerge unless there is a fundamental shift in the factors driving Iraqi political and security developments."
Further, a report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on September 4 found that the national Iraqi government was making little political progress. The GAO concluded that the Iraqi government had met only one of eight legislative benchmarks and partially met one other. GAO noted that six of the legislative benchmarks had not been met: "a review committee has not completed work on important revisions to Iraq's constitution" and "the government has not enacted legislation on de-Ba'athification, oil revenue sharing, provincial elections, amnesty, or militia disarmament."
- O'Hanlon and Pollack -- critics of administration handling of the war -- agree the surge is working
On July 30, Brookings Institution scholars Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack published an op-ed in The New York Times in which they described themselves as "analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq" and argued that "significant changes were taking place," which justified continuing the Bush administration's surge strategy "at least into 2008." The op-ed received widespread media attention, and supporters of the administration's policy in Iraq touted the op-ed, saying that Pollack's and O'Hanlon's findings of progress were particularly credible, given their purported criticism of the war. Indeed, the weblog Think Progress noted that O'Hanlon and Pollack "appeared on at least nine major mainstream media outlets in" the 24 hours after their op-ed appeared.
In fact, O'Hanlon and Pollack are not "critics of the war"; as Media Matters has noted, both O'Hanlon and Pollack were influential proponents of the Iraq war before the invasion. Pollack wrote a book in 2002 titled The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq (Random House). Furthermore, O'Hanlon publicly supported the surge policy and wrote a January 2007 column in support of President Bush's troop escalation, claiming that it was "the right thing to try." Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald documented the litany of O'Hanlon and Pollack's support for the Iraq war, including the fact that O'Hanlon was one of the signatories to the Project for New American Century's Iraq policy letter issued in 2003, and had, as recently as February 2007, written a Wall Street Journal op-ed arguing that Democrats were wrong to oppose the war and that the surge should continue.
Media reports routinely failed to mention Pollack and O'Hanlon's support for the invasion:
- On the August 20 edition of Fox News' Special Report, national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin reported that Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and John Warner (R-VA), after returning from Iraq, were "sounding a bit like Brookings Institution war critics Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, who changed their views after seeing some of the military successes first hand."
- On the July 31 edition of CNN's Larry King Live, host Larry King failed to challenge Vice President Dick Cheney, who described O'Hanlon and Pollack as "strong critics of the war."
- In a June 30 post on The New Yorker's website, George Packer wrote that "'Hanlon and Pollack have long been critics of the war."
On Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace described O'Hanlon and Pollack as "two critics of the way the Bush administration has conducted the war." On the CBS Evening News, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin falsely described O'Hanlon as "a critic" of the Iraq war "who used to think the surge was too little too late, [but] now believes it should be continued." And on CNN Newsroom, anchor Heidi Collins introduced Pollack by saying that he "has been a vocal critic of the administration's handling of the [Iraq] war, but he says that an eight-day visit has changed his outlook a bit."
Myth: "The surge has reduced violence in Iraq"
On the August 28 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry uncritically aired President Bush's assertion from his August 28 speech to the American Legion that "[s]ectarian violence has sharply decreased in Baghdad. The momentum is now on our side." Henry gave no indication that he had attempted to verify Bush's assertion. Further, The Washington Post printed an August 28 op-ed by O'Hanlon defending the New York Times op-ed he co-authored in which, relying on data supplied by the U.S. military, he repeated his previous claim that "Iraqi civilian fatality rates are down." During a report containing an interview with Petraeus, on the September 4 CBS Evening News, anchor Katie Couric did not challenge Petraeus' assertion that "if you look at the country as a whole ... the number of ethnosectarian deaths, you name it, the number of incidents has been reduced dramatically."
By contrast, an August 25 Associated Press article reported that while violence is down in Baghdad "from peak levels ... the death toll from sectarian attacks around the country is running nearly double the pace from a year ago." Moreover, McClatchy Newspapers reported on August 15 that while U.S. officials have said civilian casualties have decreased in Baghdad, they have "declined to provide specific numbers, and statistics gathered by McClatchy Newspapers don't support the claim."
On September 1, the Los Angeles Times reported that "[b]ombings, sectarian slayings and other violence related to the war killed at least 1,773 Iraqi civilians in August, the second month in a row that civilian deaths have risen." The article added: "The statistics appear to indicate that the increase in troops ordered by President Bush this year has done little to curb civilian bloodshed, despite U.S. military statements to the contrary." Further, an article in the September 10 edition of Newsweek reported that "[t]he surge of U.S. troops -- meant in part to halt the sectarian cleansing of the Iraqi capital -- has hardly stemmed the problem." The report quoted Rafiq Tschannen, chief of the Iraq mission for the International Organization for Migration, who said that "the fighting that accompanied the influx of U.S. troops actually 'has increased the IDPs [internally displaced persons] to some extent."
In fact, the GAO, the latest NIE, the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq report, and a recent op-ed by a group of seven soldiers in Iraq all suggest that the surge has not significantly improved the security situation and that violence in Iraq has not decreased. Moreover, a September 6 Washington Post article reported challenges to the U.S. military's recent assertions -- and scrutiny of a specific claim Petraeus is expected to make in his testimony to Congress -- that sectarian violence in Iraq is declining:
- According to the GAO in its report issued September 4, the goal of "[r]educing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security" was "not met," meaning that "there was no clear and reliable evidence that the level of sectarian violence was reduced and that militia control of local security was eliminated." The GAO further noted: "While it is not clear if sectarian violence has been reduced, militia control over security forces has not been eliminated and remains a serious problem in Baghdad and other areas of Iraq." Further, during testimony on September 4 in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Comptroller General David Walker, the top official at the GAO, discussed data surrounding sectarian violence and asserted that "there are several different sources within the administration on violence, and those sources do not agree" and that "part of the problem that we had in reaching a conclusion about sectarian violence is there are multiple sources showing different levels of violence with different trends."
- Portions of the NIE that were released on August 23 contain the conclusion that while "[t]here have been measurable but uneven improvements in Iraq's security situation," "the level of overall violence, including attacks on and casualties among civilians, remains high; Iraq's sectarian groups remain unreconciled; [and] AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks."
- The Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, chaired by retired Gen. James L. Jones and created by the Congress to provide an independent assessment of the Iraqi Security Forces -- both military and police -- reported significant shortcomings with the Iraqi security forces, affecting their ability to reduce violence and provide security for the Iraq people. The commission reported: "The Iraqi Police Service is incapable today of providing security at a level sufficient to protect Iraqi neighborhoods from insurgents and sectarian violence. The police are central to long-term establishment of security in Iraq. To be effective in combating the threats that officers face, including sectarian violence, the Iraqi Police Service must be better trained and equipped." While the commission noted that it "believes that the Iraqi Police Service can improve rapidly should the Ministry of Interior become a more functional institution," its conclusion about the Ministry of Interior stated: "The Ministry of Interior is a ministry in name only. It is widely regarded as being dysfunctional and sectarian, and suffers from ineffective leadership. Such fundamental flaws present a serious obstacle to achieving the levels of readiness, capability, and effectiveness in police and border security forces that are essential for internal security and stability in Iraq." Regarding the National Police Force, the commission concluded: "The National Police have proven operationally ineffective. Sectarianism in its units undermines its ability to provide security; the force is not viable in its current form. The National Police should be disbanded and reorganized."
- As Media Matters noted, seven U.S. Army infantrymen and noncommissioned officers currently serving in Iraq wrote in an August 19 New York Times op-ed: "The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere." The soldiers also wrote: "Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side."
- In the September 6 Post article, headlined "Experts Doubt Drop In Violence in Iraq," staff writer Karen DeYoung reported that in his upcoming testimony to Congress on the status of Bush's Iraq troop increase plan, Petraeus "is expected to cite a 75 percent decrease in sectarian attacks." Citing the GAO report, the article added that "[o]thers who have looked at the full range of U.S. government statistics on violence, however, accuse the military of cherry-picking positive indicators and caution that the numbers -- most of which are classified -- are often confusing and contradictory." The Post added that "the intelligence community has its own problems with military calculations" regarding violence in Iraq. It also reported that one unnamed "senior intelligence official" specifically took issue with how the military counts acts of sectarian violence, because, according to the military, "[i]f a bullet went through the back of the head, it's sectarian .... If it went through the front, it's criminal."
Myth: "U.S. military deaths are down this summer"
On the August 30 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, guest host Christine Romans repeatedly claimed that American troop deaths in Iraq "are down this summer." Romans also reported that "[t]he Pentagon today is citing the surge in Iraq as a reason for a drop in troop deaths this summer" by comparing casualty figures in July and August to those in May, and she later asked if lower American casualty figures were a measure of the success of the "surge." Similarly, on August 1, all three broadcast networks' evening news programs -- ABC's World News with Charles Gibson, CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, and NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams -- reported that the death toll for U.S. service members in Iraq was down in July. However, none of the programs noted at the time that U.S. troop death numbers for July, while lower than previous months, meant that this July was the deadliest July of the war. Nor did any of the news reports note that the death toll for U.S. service members during the months of June and July were the highest for this two-month period since the war began. Furthermore, while the number of troops killed in Iraq for the months of June, July, and August makes the summer of 2007 the deadliest summer of the war for American soldiers, a Media Matters review of the three network evening news broadcasts found that none of them have reported this fact.
Statistics compiled by the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count on its website iCasualties.org, which publishes death count totals provided by the Department of Defense, show that more U.S. troops have died in Iraq during June, July, and August this year than the same three-month period in 2003, 2004, 2005, or 2006. The website currently lists the total U.S. death count for this period at 264.
Nevertheless, as Media Matters noted (here and here), media outlets continue to overlook the combined casualty figures for U.S. troops during June, July, and August, while claiming that there have been fewer soldiers killed in Iraq this summer.
Myth: Democrats agree the "surge" is "working"
In the last month, as several Democrats have commented on the current situation in Iraq, the Republicans and the media have routinely mischaracterized their statements about progress in Iraq to suggest that Democrats believe that Bush's troop increase is working and that the strategy has been successful. In fact, these Democrats have generally tried to make clear that their claims that progress was being made in Iraq referred specifically to military progress and not political progress, and that overall the troop increase was not working. As Salon.com's Tim Grieve noted:
We'll admit it's a fine distinction, but it shouldn't be so hard to understand. Is the "surge" having some success, in some areas, in reducing the levels of violence in Iraq? Yes. Is the overall "strategy" working -- that is, is the Iraqi government using the "breathing space" it's getting to do the things it needs to do? No. While it's certainly in the Bush administration's interests to conflate the questions and confuse the answers, the White House has people on staff paid to do just that. Journalists aren't supposed to be doing it for them.
Further, many of these Democrats had limited their claims about progress to the situation in Al Anbar province, which they often noted had nothing to do with the administration's strategy and which began 4-6 months prior to the arrival of any additional troops when local Sunni leaders agreed to assist U.S. soldiers there in fighting Al Qaeda. Nevertheless, as Media Matters has noted, media reports have repeatedly used Democrats' claims about Anbar to suggest that Bush's strategy is being successful, and sometimes to ask whether that success justifies staying in Iraq longer to give the surge a chance to work.
The following are examples of various media outlets mischaracterizing the statements of prominent Democrats to suggest that they believe Bush's escalation plan is working:
- Sen. Clinton
In an August 20 speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) said: "We've begun to change tactics in Iraq, and in some areas, particularly in Al Anbar province, it's working. We're just years too late changing our tactics. We can't ever let that happen again." An August 21 New York Times article reported that "[a]ides to Mrs. Clinton said her remarks that military tactics in Iraq are 'working' referred specifically to reports of increased cooperation from Sunnis leading to greater success against insurgents in Al Anbar Province." Several media reports following Clinton's speech, however, said that Clinton had conceded that the "surge" is "working." For example, MSNBC, the New York Post, the Associated Press, and The Washington Times all reported that Clinton said the Bush administration's so-called "surge" policy is "working."
Similarly, on the August 26 edition of CBS' Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer falsely claimed that Clinton is "saying it looks like ... maybe the surge is working in the sense that there is less violence there."
In fact, Media Matters has repeatedly noted that Clinton suggested months ago that U.S. forces were achieving progress in Iraq due to better relations between tribal leaders and American military forces, while at the same time she was opposing the so-called "surge" and calling for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The New York Daily News reported on August 23 that Clinton made similar comments about Al Anbar province in March: "Camp Clinton insisted she was talking only about a limited improvement in Anbar, linked to better relations with tribal leaders -- a claim she made to the Daily News in March." Indeed, on March 16, Clinton told the Daily News that "[w]e seem to be making a little progress in Al Anbar province because we have an alliance with the tribal sheiks for the very first time" and discussed cooperation in Al Anbar, noting: "I don't know anybody who has looked at this from a military perspective who says that we would need a lot of troops to keep that up." In the same interview, Clinton made clear that she didn't believe the surge was working and reaffirmed her claim that some U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Iraq: "[I]f we could start now to do what many of us believe we should -- like no escalation and forcing political solutions and international involvement and all the things I've talked about for a very long time -- then we would be on the path toward reducing drastically the number of troops we have with these remaining missions."
- Sen. Durbin
An August 9 New York Sun article on recent statements by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) regarding President Bush's troop increase strategy in Iraq, made during an August 8 CNN interview, appeared under the headline: "A Ranking Senate Democrat Concedes Surge Is Working." While Durbin cited military progress in Iraq during the CNN interview, he did not "concede" that the "surge is working" as the Sun headline stated. Rather, he specifically said that he sees "two important parts to this story... As we are seeing military progress, any political scene is discouraging. We are seeing the al Maliki government once branded the government of unity coming apart. We are seeing Sunnis and others leaving and not becoming the stability of this country."
Similarly, on the August 22 edition of Fox News' Special Report, chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle reported that Durbin "once said the surge was not the answer, but now says the 'surge has resulted in a reduction of violence in many parts of Iraq. More American troops have brought more peace to more parts of Iraq. I think that's a fact.' " According to an August 9 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, Durbin did, in an August 8 conference call, reportedly say that it's "a fact" that "[t]he surge has resulted in a reduction of violence in many parts of Iraq." However, he also said that the president's strategy had major flaws that would prevent it from achieving success: "Iraqi politicians haven't made the type of progress that would produce "a government of national unity," he said. Durbin added: "That is the weakness in the president's strategy. I think we have to start removing the troops. We have stretched our troops to the limit."
- Sen. Obama
The August 22 edition of The Washington Post's The Trail, "A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008," cropped an August 21 comment by Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) on the troop buildup in Iraq -- that "[i]f we put 30,000 additional troops into Baghdad, it will quell some of the violence short-term" -- and juxtaposed it with his January 5 comment -- that "an escalation of troop levels in Iraq was a mistake and that we need a political accommodation rather than a military approach to the sectarian violence there" -- to falsely suggest that the two statements were inconsistent. In fact, Obama reiterated his position from January on August 21, but the Post omitted the entirety of his comments: After saying what the Post quoted him saying, Obama added: "It [a troop buildup] doesn't change the underlying assessment, which is that there is not a military solution to the political dynamic in Iraq."
Myth: Democrats are calling for a "precipitous withdrawal" from Iraq
President Bush has used the term "precipitous withdrawal" to describe proposals for a timetable for withdrawal on multiple occasions, as have White House spokesman Tony Fratto and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Moreover, Vice President Dick Cheney said on August 6 that "this is no time to lose heart and make a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, as some in Congress are demanding." In addition, a document on House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-OH) website asks, "What would Iraq look like if the Democrats' plan for precipitous withdrawal were implemented?"
Media reports have routinely suggested that Democrats have called for a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq. For example, as Media Matters noted, The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray wrote on August 31 that Gen. David Petraeus "is expected to report to Congress next month that there are some signs of progress in Iraq and that a precipitous U.S. withdrawal could be disastrous," without giving any indication that the term "precipitous withdrawal" is used by Republicans to attack Iraq withdrawal plans, or citing a single lawmaker who has called for a "precipitous U.S. withdrawal" from Iraq. On the July 31 edition of NPR's Morning Edition, NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman asserted that Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, Bush's nominee for Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, "will not be calling for, like the Democrats are, for any precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops" from Iraq during his testimony before the Congress.
In fact, Democrats have advocated several plans -- including at least one supported by some Republicans -- that call for a "gradual" withdrawal or a "phased redeployment" of U.S. troops from Iraq, with some troops remaining in Iraq for specified missions after the withdrawal of most combat troops. Moreover, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), co-sponsor of a leading proposal dealing with troop levels in Iraq, have both specifically stated that Democrats are not calling for a precipitous withdrawal. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), appearing on the August 26 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, argued: "No one in a responsible position in government is saying that we should pull the plug in Iraq and have a precipitous withdrawal."
More recently, President Bush, members of the administration, and congressional Republicans have taken to simply arguing against a precipitous withdrawal, without attributing the position to Democrats. For example, Bush said on April 24 that "a precipitous withdrawal would increase the probability that American troops would one day have to return to Iraq and confront an enemy that's even more dangerous." In addition, Crocker and State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey have both recently warned against the consequences of a "precipitous withdrawal," and media coverage is replete with examples of these claims going unchallenged (here, here, here, here, and here) and of the media failing to note that Democrats are not advocating such a position.
For some time, President Bush has asserted that if the United States were to withdraw troops from Iraq, the terrorists "would follow us home" or would be emboldened to launch attacks against America. Media outlets have routinely reported Bush's claim without noting expert opinion that a U.S. troop withdrawal is unlikely to result in a terrorist attack on the United States.
For example, in a September 4 New York Times article, David S. Cloud and Steven Lee Myers reported President Bush's assertion that withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq would "embolden our enemies and make it more likely that they would attack us at home" -- without mentioning the numerous security and terrorism experts who have challenged this claim. Further, the article ignored a "Terrorism Index" survey by the Center for American Progress and Foreign Policy magazine, which found that only 12 percent of experts believe that terrorists are either very likely or likely to attack the United States as a direct result of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. Moreover, some foreign policy experts have said that it is the U.S. occupation of Iraq that increases the likelihood of a terrorist attack on the United States. An April 30 report on NPR's All Things Considered quoted retired Brig. Gen. John H. Johns saying, "It's actually leaving American forces in Iraq ... that increases the chances of a terrorist attack on the U.S."
Further, according to an April 6 McClatchy Newspapers article, "[m]ilitary and diplomatic analysts" say that a similar claim by Bush -- that "this is a war in which, if we were to leave before the job is done, the enemy would follow us here" -- "exaggerat[es] the threat that enemy forces in Iraq pose to the U.S. mainland." The article continued: "U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic experts in Bush's own government say the violence in Iraq is primarily a struggle for power between Shiite and Sunni Muslim Iraqis seeking to dominate their society, not a crusade by radical Sunni jihadists bent on carrying the battle to the United States." The article quoted a U.S. intelligence official as saying that "[t]he war in Iraq isn't preventing terrorist attacks on America" and noted that "the likelihood that enemy combatants from Iraq might follow departing U.S. forces back to the United States is remote at best."
Similarly, coverage of Bush's August 22 speech to the convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) uncritically repeated Bush's claim: "Unlike in Vietnam, if we were to withdraw before the job was done, this enemy would follow us home." The assertion is widely challenged by security and terrorism experts, but several media outlets repeated his quote without challenge. The New York Post, The Kansas City Star, and the New York Daily News all simply quoted Bush's claim. As Media Matters has noted (here and here), assessments from a wide range of U.S. intelligence officials, security experts, and military analysts disagree with this view. In fact, retired Army Lt. Col. James Carafano, a research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, was quoted in NPR's April 30 report suggesting that "asserting that terrorists will follow U.S. troops home [is] naive and poor rhetoric." Carafano was also quoted as saying: "There's no national security analyst that's really credible who thinks that people are going to come from Iraq and attack the United States -- that that's a credible scenario."