They bought it. The press bought it. Number 1 goes on TV and says he's beginning a pull-back, and they buy it. He says he's withdrawing 5,700 troops by December, and they call it "gradual troop cuts" in the Times, and "Bush tells nation he will begin 'surge' rollback" in the Post. He says the build-up will stay in place until at least next March but for those 5,700 troops, and they call it a gradual troop cut.
Let me tell you about that "rollback" of 5,700 troops: It happens every month. It's part of the mechanics of rotating troops in and out. From February to March 2005, there was a troop cut of 5,000. Did the president go on the air to announce it? Of course not. It was just a brigade coming home. The next month, troops were "rolled back" by a further 8,000. Did Number 1 go on TV? Obviously not, although the Pentagon is fond of saying "we don't announce troop movements," and of court-martialling soldiers who do. Then there was a "surge," from September to November 2005, troop levels going from 138,000 to 160,000. Then a decrease from 160,000 to 136,000 in January 2006. And on and on: virtually every month, fluctuations up and down of 5,000 to 10,000 or more, because troops have to be rotated, because you can only extend their incarceration in Iraq so long. (See the whole chart of month-by-month deployment: go here and scroll to page 28.)
And he called it a "return on success."
Here's how we called it in this morning's edit:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was right to cut off President Bush in their White House meeting earlier this week. Somebody has to. Bush was beginning to describe how he's about to pull back some American troops in Iraq. "No you're not," Pelosi corrected him. "You're just going back to the pre-surge level." Of course he is. That's not a pull-back. It's a resumption of business as usual. If you can call a reduction of 5,700 troops by year's end a reduction. Troop levels fluctuate more than that month-over-month regardless.
Too bad somebody couldn't interrupt the president on national television last night, the eighth time in four years that he's taken to the national airwaves to defend an indefensible war and ask the nation to trust his-what? Besides his hazardous gut, there's little left to trust.
We summed up the "draw-down" calculation shenanigans and noted one of the many things Bush never would: "What the "surge" masked, what President Bush never spoke about, is the hemorrhage that coalition troops have suffered since January 2005. The Ukraine, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands: They've all pulled out their troops. Britain is reducing its contingent. From a high of 25,600, non-American coalition troops are down to 11,700. Half the "surge" was merely replacement personnel." And there was this, from an AP story in August: "The Army's 38 available combat units are deployed, just returning home or already tapped to go to Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere, leaving no fresh troops to replace five extra brigades that President Bush sent to Baghdad this year, according to interviews and military documents." In other words, the military is broken. More from the editorial:
Progress in Iraq? Only if you believe the numbers Bush and Gen. David Petraeus have been peddling around this week. But those numbers of allegedly decreasing violence don't track significant Sunni-Sunni violence or Shiite-Shiite violence. The Government Accountability Office also found that the White House's claim of decreasing sectarian violence could not be verified. And the overall death toll continues to rise. The presence of American troops is supposedly preventing an outright civil war. It's equally possible that it's inflaming violence by giving various militias and insurgent groups cover for their violent agendas.
Bush's perspective is even more deceitful for centering on American concerns. Here's the consequence of Bush's war that Iraqis are contending with. Today, despite the surge, up to 2.4 million Iraqis are refugees abroad, and 1.1 million are internal refugees, forcibly displaced from their homes. That's 13 percent of the nation's population, including 40 percent of its professional class-uprooted or gone. Baghdad residents get an average of six hours of electricity per day (down from 16 to 24 before the war). Residents elsewhere get an average of 10.3 hours (up from four to eight hours in 2003). Unemployment is as high as 40 percent. Inflation is running at 50 percent. Just 30 percent of Iraq's school-age students are in class. Sixteen of 36 ministers in the national government have either quit or are boycotting meetings. And 60,000 Iraqis are in Iraqi or American prisons (the peak prison population in 2003? 10,000).
That is what Bush calls "the way forward."
Pelosi was too kind to Bush, especially now that he is exclusively in time-scrounging mode until the next president inherits his catastrophe.
© 2007 Pierre Tristam