“Numbers” Negroponte

More on Ambassador John Negroponte’s shifty explanation of Iraqi security forces that Jon Baskin touched on earlier:

On Jan. 12, the State Department released its Weekly Iraq Status Update, which states on page 5 that Iraq’s army consists of precisely 4,159 individuals. That was the report referenced by Sen. Joseph Biden during his questioning of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. You might think the U.S. ambassador to Iraq would be familiar with the report’s contents before appearing on national television, particularly considering the report is easily accessible online. Of course, you’d be wrong:

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Joe Biden, Delaware Democrat, said this week in Washington that there are only 4,000 fully trained and capable Iraqi soldiers in the Iraqi armed forces. Is that accurate?

AMB. NEGROPONTE: Well, I think that really understates the accomplishments of the Iraqi army and police forces. They’ve had a number of successes in the past several months in Najaf, in Samarra, in eastern Baghdad. There are some 75 or 80 Iraqi battalions that are currently trained and operating, so I think that that 4,000 figure understates the progress that has been made by Iraq’s armed forces in the past six months.

Negroponte manages to dodge Russert’s simple question — “Is that accurate?” — in four different ways.

First, Negroponte mentions “Iraqi army and police forces.” Iraqi police currently number more than 50,000; Russert asked only about the soldiers in the Iraqi armed forces (i.e., the army). Negroponte then plays up the recent “accomplishments” and “successes” of the Iraqi forces, implying Russert had questioned the soldiers’ competence; he actually asked about the pace at which the U.S. is training new forces. Next Negroponte mentions Iraqi successes in places like Najaf and Samarra, actually referring to the Iraqi National Guard (not the army or the police), which was used heavily in those operations. Finally, Negroponte claims the number used by Russert — which is, to repeat, released by the State Department and updated weekly — “understates the progress that has been made by Iraq’s armed forces in the past six months.”

John Negroponte: wildly ignorant, or a shameless spinmeister?