WaPo Accentuates the Negative in McCaffrey Iraq Report

As an NBC military affairs analyst, retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey is a familar face to many Americans. McCaffrey also serves as an adjunct professor at West Point, and in that capacity recently wrote an eight-page paper on the situation in Iraq based on a recent visit there.

In today's Washington Post, there appears an article by Thomas Ricks, WaPo's Pentagon correspondent, reporting on the McCaffrey paper. While Ricks does discuss some of McCaffrey's more optimistic findings, he emphasizes the negative while ignoring a number of the general's positive observations. Ricks' headline sets the tone: McCaffrey Paints Gloomy Picture Of Iraq, a tone reinforced by the article's opening line: "An influential retired Army general released a dire assessment of the situation in Iraq, based on a recent round of meetings there with Gen. David H. Petraeus and 16 other senior U.S. commanders."

Ricks does state that McCaffey's report "also lists several reasons for some new optimism, noting that since the arrival of Petraeus last month, 'the situation on the ground has clearly and measurably improved.'" And later: "Among McCaffrey's reasons for new optimism were that the Maliki government is permitting the United States to attack rogue leaders in the Mahdi Army of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Also, he noted that U.S. and Iraqi forces have changed their basic approach to operations, with soldiers now living on small outposts across Baghdad. Iraqi forces also are better equipped than before. In Anbar province, he noted, 'There is a real and growing groundswell of Sunni tribal opposition to the al-Qaeda-in-Iraq terror formations.' So, he concluded, it is still possible to develop a stable Iraq."

But Ricks omits mention of a number of other significant, positive findings that McCaffrey made, including the following:

  • "We have brilliant military and civilian leadership on the ground in Iraq. General Dave Petraeus, LTG Ray Odierno, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker have the country's treasure and combat power at their disposal. Our cause is just. The consequence of failure will be severe."
  • "The Iraqi people are encouraged" and "life is almost immediately springing back in many parts of the city. The murder rate has plummeted. IED attacks on US forces during their formerly vulnerable daily transits from huge US bases on the periphery of Baghdad are down – since these forces are now permanently based in their operational area."
  • "The Iraqis have finally committed credible numbers Of integrated police and army units to the Battle Of Baghdad. The strength of IA, IP, and NP units has steadily gone up aided by clever monetary and troop leader incentives. The ISF formations are showing increased willingness to aggressively operate against insurgent/militia forces. Although there is continuing political interference by politicians of both the Iraqi Administration and legislators – this is clearly a serious urban security operation."
  • "The equipment and resources for the Iraqi security forces has increased dramatically" While "Maliki has pushed to create a larger security force." The ISF has planned 2007 expenditures of more than $7.3 billion. The Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior are the only two of 27 Iraqi Ministries that have executed their budgets at 90% plus satisfactory rates. (General Petraeus is now putting US military liaison officers in ten additional civilian Ministries to jump start their budget process.) PM Maliki has pushed to create a larger security force of more than 100,000 Iraqi Army troops."
  • "There is a very sophisticated and carefully integrated approach by the Iraqi government and coalition actors to defuse the armed violence from internal enemies and bring people into the political process. Reconciliation of the internal warring elements in Iraq will be how we eventually win the war in Iraq – if it happens. … There are encouraging signs that the peace and participation message does resonate with many of the more moderate Sunni and Shia warring factions."

So, a fair and balanced overview by Ricks of the McCaffrey report, or was the author of "Fiasco

" emphasizing the negative?

UPDATE: Appearing on this afternoon's Hardball, McCaffrey told Chris Matthews that it would be a military mistake and political disaster for the Dems to impose a binding timetable for withdrawal. He added that in the last 45 days since Gen. Petraeus got there, "the short term indicators are immeasurably better."

Mark was in Iraq in November. Contact him at mark@gunhill.net

Foreign Policy Iraq NBC Washington Post