Karen DeYoung has two fact-checking stories in the WaPo today on progress in Iraq. The page 1 story is about how the Iraqi army is not ready to step up, and the page 16 story is about the contradictory and confusing stats on violence (see emptywheel's take on the page 16 story):
Experts Doubt Drop In Violence in Iraq
Military Statistics Called Into Question
The U.S. military's claim that violence has decreased sharply in Iraq in recent months has come under scrutiny from many experts within and outside the government, who contend that some of the underlying statistics are questionable and selectively ignore negative trends.
Reductions in violence form the centerpiece of the Bush administration's claim that its war strategy is working. In congressional testimony Monday, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is expected to cite a 75 percent decrease in sectarian attacks. According to senior U.S. military officials in Baghdad, overall attacks in Iraq were down to 960 a week in August, compared with 1,700 a week in June, and civilian casualties had fallen 17 percent between December 2006 and last month. Unofficial Iraqi figures show a similar decrease.
Others who have looked at the full range of U.S. government statistics on violence, however, accuse the military of cherry-picking positive indicators and caution that the numbers -- most of which are classified -- are often confusing and contradictory. "Let's just say that there are several different sources within the administration on violence, and those sources do not agree," Comptroller General David Walker told Congress on Tuesday in releasing a new Government Accountability Office report on Iraq.
The bottom line is that no matter how the PR campaign plays out, the public has already made its mind up about the war. Hard core Republicans still support it (hence the war dance at the Republican mating ritual in NH), but they don't represent a majority. So here's the new Conventional Wisdom, via Carl Leubsdorf writing in the Dallas Morning News (and acknowledging the CNN poll).
Meanwhile, the administration's effort to turn glimmers of progress into a steady light at the end of the tunnel faces the reality checks of independent observers. For example, though officials claim progress on half of the 18 benchmarks Congress set, the independent Government Accountability Office this week reached a far more pessimistic conclusion. It said the Baghdad government has met only three of the 18 with partial progress on four others.
In the end, the spate of claims and counterclaims about conditions in Iraq may offset one another, creating public confusion and leaving Congress and the public in a stalemate about the war. Public attitudes, after all, have been relatively unchanged for years.
But unless Mr. Bush and his supporters can succeed in changing the prevailing majority view that favors ending the war as soon as possible, even his ability to stage upbeat events in Iraq and win periodic fights in Congress won't give Republicans a positive terrain on which to fight the 2008 campaign.
While Larry Craig is doing his best to highlight ongoing Republican scandals, there's little good news out there in what even Republican and conservative observers describe as a bleak picture. The fundamentals aren't changing, and Republicans remain on the wrong side of the issues, including the sectarian civil war in Iraq. So far, at least, they've done nothing to take Iraq off the table for 2008. It's the reason that the fact-checkers have so much work to do whenever anything comes out of the Republican spin machine. And it's the reason predictions about the war being less of an issue in the next election are so much hot air.