COMMENTS: A Bloody Summer is Beginning

President George Bush commanded headlines with his Rose Garden press conference. Each network led with its White House correspondent's coverage of Bush's prediction of a summer of vicious warfare in Iraq: "It could be a bloody--it could be a very difficult--August," as politicians inside-the-Beltway prepare for a September vote on how to proceed in Iraq. That is when Gen David Petraeus will to present his progress report on the so-called surge of troops, designed to impose security on Baghdad. Bush predicted plenty of lack of security in the meantime: "What they are going to try to do is kill as many innocent people as they can to try to influence the debate here at home."

CBS published an opinion poll that showed 76% of Americans "believe the war is going badly." All three White House correspondents picked up hints that the President is laying the groundwork to change his policy come September. NBC's David Gregory called it "significant" that Bush should suggest a reduction of troop levels: "I would like to see us in a different configuration." CBS' Jim Axelrod flat out contradicted the Commander in Chief when he aired this soundbite: "As I have constantly made clear the recommendations of Baker-Hamilton appeal to me." Not! According to Axelrod, the Iraq Study Group report was something "he largely ignored when it was first published last December."

"Resolute as he appeared," mused Axelrod, "the President hinted strongly at a back-up Plan B," modeled on the ISG's proposals to step up regional diplomacy, to draw down troops and to disengage from sectarian violence. NBC's Gregory was on the same page as Axelrod. He saw the ISG as a potential "basis for a bipartisan exit strategy." Congress finally approved the $120bn to pay for the war until September without attaching a schedule to pull troops out. "Democrats were denied their top goal," was how ABC's George Stephanopoulos (no link) assessed the vote. A consolation prize, noted NBC's Gregory, was an "off-topic add"--an increase in the federal hourly minimum wage to $7.25.

ABC's Martha Raddatz (subscription required) pointed out another mechanism for the President to agree to a withdrawal of US troops. Even though he asserted that "leaving Iraq would be catastrophic," he pledged to bring them home if asked to do so by the government of Iraq. "Even with the warnings of catastrophe?" Raddatz pressed. "I hope that they would recognize that the results would be catastrophic. But this is a sovereign nation, Martha. We are there at their request.

CBS' Jeff Greenfield filed a Reality Check on the President's premonitions of catastrophe--his nightmare that a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq would lead to Iraq-based al-Qaeda cells emigrating to the United States to conduct terrorist attacks on future generations of domestic citizens. John Mueller, a professor at Ohio State University, reminded Greenfield that the President's fears echoed a Vietnam War scenario that "we would be fighting Communists in San Diego." Greenfield concluded that there is "widespread agreement" that the majority of the violence in Iraq is indigenous. As for the transnational al-Qaeda presence, it poses "a threat to other nations in the region" rather than to this country.


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