COMMENTS: Military, Political, Historical

What made Iraq the Story of the Day was the follow-ups to the debate. NBC chose the military angle, as Gen Petraeus gave his briefing on the troop build-up, the so-called surge. Jim Miklaszewski zeroed in on three major points that may make the political debate moot. First, the reinforcements have not improved security in Baghdad--sectarian killings reduced while carbomb killings increased--and the worst of the violence "may be yet to come." Second, there is no sign of political progress by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: "It is split into so many factions, each with its own agenda, that it is difficult to pass any meaningful legislation." Third, even if the Democrats are overridden, their desired withdrawal of combat troops will begin next year anyway, since the "military is stretched so thin it will not be able to keep up the current pace of deployments" beyond next spring.

ABC had Nightline anchor Terry Moran (subscription required) look at the political angle. "What is the point?" he asked. Why are the Democrats going through the effort of passing a bill they know is doomed to fail by veto? Moran's analysis was that this provides a "first look" at how the two parties will be configured after the war is over: "toughness" vs "carrying out the will of Americans." Moran observed that the Democrats risk seeming defeatist and losing national security credentials, as they did in the decades after the Vietnam War, while he could not find the long-term downside for Republicans for refusing to accept a pullout. He quoted GOP operative Vin Weber: "Being blamed for losing an unpopular war can hurt a political party for a whole generation"--and he was referring to Democrats not Republicans.

CBS chose the historical angle, as Scott Pelley previewed his 60 Minutes profile of George Tenet, the onetime Director of Central Intelligence, who was famously quoted by The Washington Post's Bob Woodward as guaranteeing to the President that the case for Iraq's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction was a "slam dunk." Tenet recalled his own fury when he read the White House leak that pre-war WMD errors were the fault of the CIA: "You have gone out and made me look stupid. It is the most despicable thing I have ever heard in my life. Men of honor do not do this…You do not throw people overboard."

And from London, CBS pulled off a rare feat: Richard Roth found the celebrity angle in the Iraq conflict. What to do about Prince Harry, a second lieutenant trained as a tank commander? Roth reminded us of the prince's expectation that he would get to fight in Iraq: "If they said, 'No. You cannot go to the frontline,' then I would not drag my sorry arse through Sandhurst." Now, in response to threats of kidnap and killing from insurgent Websites, the British army is having second thoughts. "The dilemma," as Roth put it, is that "a decision now to keep Harry home could hand insurgents a symbolic victory."


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