Post and Coloradoan uncritically reported talking point about Bush's Iraq strategy being “short term”

In articles about President Bush's plan to send additional troops to Iraq, The Denver Post and the Fort Collins Coloradoan uncritically reported comments by Colorado congressional Republicans suggesting that the increase in troops was a “short-term” strategy. In fact, Bush administration officials have signaled that the troop increase will be sustained long term.

Following President Bush's January 10 speech announcing his decision to deploy more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq, articles in the Fort Collins Coloradoan and The Denver Post uncritically reported claims by Colorado congressional Republicans that Bush's so-called “new plan” is “short term.” In fact, news reports and members of Bush's administration have indicated that the troop increase will be sustained over the long term.

On January 11, the Coloradoan published a Gannett News Service article uncritically reporting U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave's (R-CO) statement that “she will support [the president's] increase of forces in the short run because it will enhance safety and allow troops to return home sooner.” The article also quoted U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO) as saying, “A tradeoff in the short term is that we put in more troops so they can get the job done initially.” On January 10, an article in the Post uncritically quoted Musgrave's comment that the increase in troops "[wi]ll make our forces safer and allow our troops to return home sooner."

However, as several media outlets have noted, during his speech, Bush set no conditions on the U.S. military's involvement in Iraq nor did he suggest that an increase in troop levels would be short term. As Media Matters for America has noted, according to two anonymous administration officials cited in a January 8 USA Today article, it will take “several months” just to phase in the 20,000 additional troops. The article also reported that "[i]t is unclear how long the additional troops would stay." Also, Time magazine reported on January 4 that the troop increase could last “for a period of up to two years.” And on January 10, The New York Times reported that White House press secretary Tony Snow “said that the president would not be using the word 'surge' in his speech, adding that it implied what he called a 'rush hour' approach to a serious policy.”

Various media outlets have noted that Bush did not provide time limits or conditions during his speech. On the January 10 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, reading excerpts from Bush's speech, reported:

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."

Similarly, The Washington Post pointed out on January 11 that Bush “set no timetable for the removal of the added U.S. troops.” In fact, Bush told soon-to-be deployed soldiers at Fort Benning, Georgia, during a January 11 visit to the base that "[t]he new strategy is not going to yield immediate results. It's going to take awhile."

Moreover, Bush's claim -- echoed by Musgrave and Allard -- that increased troop levels “can hasten the day our troops begin coming home” is questionable. After troop levels in Baghdad were nearly doubled in August 2006, civilian deaths soared in September and October, CNN reported in November:

Insurgent attacks in Iraq killed 3,709 civilians last month, making October the deadliest month since the war began in 2003, according to U.N. figures.

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq, which issues bimonthly human rights reports on the war-torn country, came out with its findings for September and October on Wednesday.

September had 3,345 civilian deaths -- which, along with October, would bring to 7,054 the number of violent deaths during the two-month period, according to the U.N. tally.

Baghdad alone had no less than 4,985 deaths, “most of them as a result of gunshot wounds,” said the U.N. Assistance Mission, using figures provided by the Iraqi Health Ministry.

The figures were slightly higher than in July and August, when 6,599 civilians were killed.

From the January 11 Gannett News Service article published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan, “Colorado lawmakers split on Bush's plan,” by Faith Bremner:

Colorado's Republican lawmakers said Wednesday they support President Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq but showed signs they are running out of patience with the nearly four-year-old war.

Saying she doesn't want to needlessly prolong the war, Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave said she will support an increase of forces in the short run because it will enhance safety and allow troops to return home sooner.

“We must demand that Iraqi forces take a larger role in their own security and become less dependent on American forces,” Musgrave said in a statement. “In addition, we must see noticeable results from this new push in the coming months, not years.”

Musgrave, whose Colorado 4th District includes Larimer County, said poor planning resulted in missed opportunities and mistakes in Iraq.

Republican Sen. Wayne Allard said he's concerned that Iraqis have not done enough in the past to secure their own future and that they have become addicted to U.S. aid.

But for now, Allard said, he supports the president's plan because Bush was able to get the Iraqi leadership to agree to do more of the fighting and pay more of the cost of the war.

“A tradeoff in the short term is that we put in more troops so they can get the job done initially,” Allard said.

From the January 10 Denver Post article, “Colorado delegation divided among party lines,” by Anne C. Mulkern:

Republican members of Congress from Colorado supported President Bush's plan for the Iraq war on Wednesday, while Democrats in the delegation called it “too little, too late.”

Some of the Republicans added caveats to their endorsements for the first time.

Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave of Fort Morgan backed the plan outlined in Bush's nationally televised speech “because it'll make our forces safer and allow our troops to return home sooner.” But she criticized earlier steps in the war.