As Predicted, Only FNC Reports Progress in Iraq

After leading Tuesday's Special Report with how “last year the administration reported satisfactory progress on only about eight of 18 benchmarks” while this year, in a report disclosed Tuesday, the administration determined “there has been satisfactory progress on 15 of the 18,” FNC's Brit Hume doubted “word of this progress is going to get through” to the public as he predicted:
I suspect that this broadcast tonight -- and maybe some others on this channel -- are the only ones who are going to make a headline out of this. This is not going to be a big story elsewhere.
Indeed, neither the CBS Evening News nor NBC Nightly News mentioned Iraq while on ABC's World News anchor Charles Gibson read a short update about “increasing dangers for U.S. troops in Afghanistan” since “in the month of June there were 28 American fatalities in Afghanistan, just one less than died in Iraq last month.” CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 was also silent Tuesday night about the benchmarks.

Hume observed that “when it first hit the wires, the wire story lead about it was all about how much trouble the next President is going to have with the slow pace of the Iraqi government. Only down in the story did one find out that this new report on the benchmarks has come out reporting a dramatic change from a year ago.”

That matches an AP story posted on Yahoo. Though headlined “New Iraq report: 15 of 18 benchmarks satisfactory,” Washington, DC-based reporter Anne Flaherty began:
No matter who is elected president in November, his foreign policy team will have to deal with one of the most frustrating realities in Iraq: the slow pace with which the government in Baghdad operates.

Iraq's political and military success is considered vital to U.S. interests, whether troops stay or go. And while the Iraqi government has made measurable progress in recent months, the pace at which it's done so has been achingly slow.

The White House sees the progress in a particularly positive light, declaring in a new assessment to Congress that Iraq's efforts on 15 of 18 benchmarks are "satisfactory" -- almost twice of what it determined to be the case a year ago. The May 2008 report card, obtained by the Associated Press, determines that only two of the benchmarks -- enacting and implementing laws to disarm militias and distribute oil revenues -- are unsatisfactory....
Wednesday, July 2 Washington Post article on page A-08, “U.S. Embassy Cites Progress in Iraq: Most Congressionally Set Benchmarks Met, Report Finds.”

The short item from Charles Gibson on the July 1 World News:
Overseas, news today about the increasing dangers for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, as the Taliban grows more powerful there. In the month of June, there were 28 American fatalities in Afghanistan, just one less than died in Iraq last month. That despite the fact that there are almost five times as many U.S. troops in Iraq.
The assessment of the benchmarks broke late Tuesday afternoon, so there's a chance others will catch up on Wednesday, particularly ABC's World News which was the only broadcast network evening newscast to notice benchmark achievements back in January and February.

My Wednesday, February 13 NewsBusters posting, “ABC Uniquely Lists 'Crucial' New Laws Passed by Iraq's Parliament,” recounted:
Unlike the Wednesday CBS and NBC evening newscasts, ABC's World News highlighted a favorable development in Iraqi political progress as anchor Charles Gibson gave 20 seconds to: "Overseas, in Iraq, a breakthrough for the country's government that has been so often criticized. Iraq's parliament approved three contentious, but crucial, new laws long sought by Washington. The laws set a budget for 2008, grant amnesty to thousands of detainees and define the relationship between the central government and the provinces."

A month ago, on January 14, Gibson was also the only broadcast network evening newscast anchor to cite how "Iraqi lawmakers have put their differences aside and agreed to allow some members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to take government jobs. It's a key benchmark sought by the United States."

The CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News on Wednesday night both found time to report on how Secretary of Defense Robert Gates broke his arm in a fall on ice and how, for the first time, a Beagle (named "Uno") won "Best in Show" at the Westminster Dog Show. Gibson, who broadcast from Philadelphia, the site of the dog show, managed to note the development in Iraq as well as Uno's win....
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide a transcript of the relevant portions of the Tuesday, July 1 Special Report with Brit Hume on FNC:
BRIT HUME: Welcome to Washington. I'm Brit Hume. The White House is giving Congress a new indication of how far Iraq's leaders have come in hitting performance standards established by the U.S. Chief White House correspondent Bret Baier has the story.

BRET BAIER: In a new nine-page progress report obtained by Fox, U.S. officials in Iraq assessed that 15 of the 18 original political, security and economic benchmarks set for the Iraqi government are satisfactory, while two are unsatisfactory, and one has a split result. The May 2008 report card has almost twice the number of satisfactory marks than the assessment one year ago when the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker were grilled by Congress over the '07 report card that showed eight unsatisfactory marks, eight satisfactory marks, and two benchmarks that could not be determined.

The only two unsatisfactory marks for the Iraqis in the new report are for being unable to enact a new national oil law, even though oil revenues are being distributed through a national budget, and a failure to enact and implement laws to disarm militias. The one benchmark that brought mixed results dealt with Iraqi security forces. The report stated that the Iraqi army had made satisfactory progress on the goal of fairly enforcing the law while the Iraqi police force got an unsatisfactory grade because many police units are said to be engaging in corruption or sectarianism. But overall, the report states that militia control has declined, and that Iraqi security forces have demonstrated, quote, "Willingness and effectiveness to use these authorities to pursue extremists in all provinces regardless of population or extremist demographics."

This updated progress report with a new assessment on the original benchmarks was requested by Representative Mike McIntyre, a Democrat from North Carolina. McIntyre could not be reached by Fox, but the Associated Press reported McIntyre scoffed at the report for using a false standard of satisfactory and not whether the benchmark had been met. Senior White House officials responded that Congress determined how the benchmarks should be listed and how the original report should be graded. Two days ago, Ambassador Crocker said this about Iraqi progress: Quote, "We've seen that through a string of legislation, through a much better budget execution, a dramatic improvement over just a year ago. I'm increasingly confident that we are in a climate now where Iraqis are going to be able to progressively build their country, not just in security terms, but in political and economic as well."

Crocker and other top U.S. officials point to provincial elections in Iraq this fall as a key point for the future of the country. While the government has agreed that those elections will go forward, the Iraqi parliament is now debating the specific rules for that voting. Now, why are provincial elections so key? Because Sunnis will be able to elect Sunnis to represent them. You may remember that the Sunnis boycotted the parliamentary elections, so now many Shiites represent Sunni areas. And that's a problem. Well, just today, the largest Sunni block, a spokesman for that group said that the group's demands are being met, and that it's on the verge of rejoining the Shiite-led government. The Accordance Front pulled out of that government one year ago.
From the panel segment later in the hour:
HUME: Here is what U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, had to say about the political situation with the Iraq government just a day or two ago: Quote, "We've seen that through a string of legislation through much better budget execution a dramatic improvement over just a year ago. I'm increasingly confident that we are in a climate, now, where Iraqis are going to be able to progressively build their country, not just in security terms, but in political and economic as well."

This occurred as the administration sent to Congress, at a particular House member's request, a report on the benchmarks. Remember the political benchmarks that were made a part of the debate on Iraq -- by Congress, really. And last year, the administration reported satisfactory progress on only about eight of 18 benchmarks. This year, says the administration, there has been satisfactory progress on 15 of the 18. And one of the others  has to do were with an oil law, there is at least an oil revenue distribution program, if not a law.

Some thoughts on this now from Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, Fox News contributors all. Well, I have to say that I'm glad I was able to discover this story because when it first hit the wires, the wire story lead about it was all about how much trouble the next President is going to have with the slow pace of the Iraqi government. Only down in the story did one find out that this new report on the benchmarks has come out reporting a dramatic change from a year ago.

...

MARA LIASSON: I think the big question is going to be how fast are we going to leave? I think both a President McCain and a President Obama are going to bring down the troop levels a certain amount. The question is how fast, and the question for Obama-

HUME: Let me ask you this question, Mara, before you get to that. Both of you suggest that the word of this progress is going to get through. I suspect that this broadcast tonight -- and maybe some others on this channel -- are the only ones who are going to make a headline out of this. This is not going to be a big story elsewhere.

LIASSON: I think, over time, if the violence goes down, over time-

HUME: The violence has gone down.

LIASSON: Yes, and if it continues to, that's going to change people's opinions. Now, look, a majority of the American people still think that the war was a mistake. What they're divided on is what to do now, and whether they think the progress is tenuous enough that we have to stay there to maintain it.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: I think you're right. I saw a media report that the number of reports on Iraq in the last year is down on network news has been down, I think, by about 90 percent, as the news has been improving. The progress is absolutely undeniable on the military and political front, which is why the only people who are denying it are really on the fringes. But this obsession with the benchmarks, I think, is really quite remarkable. It's a Democratic obsession which reflects an American obsession with legalism, parchment and paper and laws. Look at the two benchmarks that the administration says are as yet unmet. Legislation to disarm the militias. Militias are not disarmed by legislation. They are disarmed by an army, and the Iraqi army has evicted the Moqtada al-Sadr Mahdi Army out of Basra, taken over Amara, taken over Sadr City, battling guerillas in Mosul. This is actually happening on the ground.

Who cares if it's enshrined in law. And as Mort indicated on oil, yes, you do not have an oil law which divides the revenues for eternity, but what is happening year after year is that in the budget, it is actually ending up in the hands of the provinces. So all of this stuff is actually happening on the ground. But this obsession with is it in law or not, I think, is silly. What we can see undeniably is a government under al-Maliki taking control of Iraq and getting the support of the Sunnis who are going to rejoin the government. This is amazing.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center