COMMENTS: Iraq, in the Absence of Substance

It was another very light day for news. So, as usual, the default Story of the Day in the absence of anything substantial was Iraq. Yet again the convoluted route to a compromise between White House and Congress over funding the war was the most heavily covered story on all three networks combined, even though Iraq was the lead only on CBS. NBC kicked off with the latest forecast for the Atlantic Ocean hurricane season. ABC claimed a scoop for its lead on Iran.

The latest on Iraq funding is that a deal is near to pay $120bn for the war through September by attaching "benchmarks" as conditions rather than "timelines." Translated: the benchmarks are 18 measures that the Baghdad government would be obliged to meet under pain of "billions for Iraqi reconstruction" being withheld, according to CBS' Sharyl Attkisson; the timelines were a fixed schedule for the withdrawal of US combat troops that President George Bush refused to accept. The catch, noted NBC's David Gregory, is that "this only buys a few months. The real fight is in September," when the next funding period is debated and Democrats may introduce timelines all over again.

ABC anchor Charles Gibson asked Jake Tapper (no link) why Democrats had not agreed to give up on their timelines months ago when they knew they could not override Bush's veto. The answer was the benchmarks. Republicans approve now of conditions they "never would have supported three months ago," Tapper pointed out. At the Pentagon they are a dead letter, unnamed sources told CBS' David Martin. He reported the conclusion by the military: "The Iraqi government will not meet any of the benchmarks for political reconciliation." Strategists have already begun work on "Plan B"--what follows the so-called surge of troop strength that was designed to enable that unattainable reconciliation.


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