White House Preparing Strategy To ‘Water Down’ Pessimistic Reports From Iraq

bushThe Washington Post reports that a draft version of the Government Accountability Office’s upcoming report on Iraq will deliver a “strikingly negative” assessment of the situation in Iraq. The report contradicts the administration’s claim that sectarian violence is decreasing, stating that “the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged.”

The leaked draft version of the report was sent to the Post by an individual who was concerned the White House may try to “water down” its conclusions. The concern comes on the heels of a report that Gen. David Petraeus “softened” the judgments of the recent National Intelligence Assessment on Iraq and comments by Rep. Tom Davis that the White House would probably “tweak” the “Petraeus report.” The Post explains:

The person who provided the draft report to The Post said it was being conveyed from a government official who feared that its pessimistic conclusions would be watered down in the final version — as some officials have said happened with security judgments in this month’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.

The AP adds further details to the story. According to unnamed officials familiar with the White House’s strategy regarding the GAO report, “the administration is preparing a case to play down the findings, arguing that Congress ordered the GAO to use unfair, ‘all or nothing’ standards when compiling the document.”

An internal White House memorandum obtained by the AP explains the White House’s strategy:

The [White House] memo argues that the GAO will not present a “true picture” of the situation in Iraq because the standards were “designed to lock in failure,” according to portions of the document read to the AP by an official who has seen it.

The benchmarks measured by the GAO were established by Congress in the war supplemental funding bill that passed in May and agreed to by President Bush. In fact, Bush heralded the passage of the benchmarks, saying they laid out a “clear roadmap” that the Iraqi government must meet:

This important bill also provides a clear roadmap to help the Iraqis secure their country and strengthen their young democracy. Iraqis need to demonstrate measurable progress on a series of benchmarks for improved security, political reconciliation, and governance. These tasks will be difficult for this young democracy, but we are confident they will continue to make progress on the goals they have set for themselves.

Now Bush is watering down, tweaking, and backing away from the truth about the situation in Iraq.

UPDATE: More from Bush, in Jan. 2007:

I’ve 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 it will lose the support of the Iraqi people. Now is the time to act. The Prime Minister understands this. Here is what he told his people just last week: “The Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of [their] sectarian or political affiliation”. (…)

A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.