It’s late-September 2004, just six weeks before Election Day. John Kerry is awfully close to Bush in the polls, and Americans’ concerns about the war in Iraq are escalating. An op-ed appears in the Washington Post that helps change the conventional wisdom among the DC chattering class:
I see tangible progress [in Iraq]. Iraqi security elements are being rebuilt from the ground up. The institutions that oversee them are being reestablished from the top down. And Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously…There are reasons for optimism…Training is on track and increasing in capacity. Infrastructure is being repaired…Progress has also been made in police training…Considerable progress is also being made in the reconstruction and refurbishing of infrastructure for Iraq’s security forces. […]
Iraq’s security forces are developing steadily and they are in the fight. Momentum has gathered in recent months. With strong Iraqi leaders out front and with continued coalition — and now NATO — support, this trend will continue.
As Dick Polman noted, “Pretty encouraging, right? Any swing voter who read that piece might well have concluded that it would be nuts to dump Bush and elect John Kerry, what with the Iraqis so poised to take responsibility for their own security. And since nobody could possibly question the author’s bona fides, it had to be true: the Iraqis were getting ready to stand up, thereby allowing our troops to stand down — just like the Decider had long promised us.”
We now know, of course, that this wildly optimistic assessment of conditions in Iraq was also wildly wrong. Each point has proven to be untrue, based on false assumptions. Given the context, you’d think the author of the piece was some kind of political hack, willing to play politics with the war. Worse, the author would also be seen as the type who might give a misleading assessment of Iraq, in order to keep the White House happy.
And who was the Pollyana who wrote this stunningly-wrong op-ed shortly before voters went to the polls? It was Gen. David Petraeus.