A headline in today’s Washington Post reminded us of something we read the other day — which, in turn, reminded us of something we wrote the other day — but first things first.
In today’s Post, Robin Wright and Peter Baker have a story about the debate in Washington whether or not to send more troops to Iraq. Wright and Baker report that “The Bush administration is split over the idea of a surge in troops to Iraq, with White House officials aggressively promoting the concept over the unanimous disagreement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to U.S. officials familiar with the intense debate.”
That the military brass is not with the White House on troop deployments is a story that has been around since at least Friday, when the Post reported that General Peter Schoomaker, the Army Chief of Staff, “voiced skepticism about the idea of an infusion of U.S. ground troops into Iraq, a message sources said he and the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff delivered to President Bush at the Pentagon on Wednesday.”
Also on Friday, the New York Times reported that the recently departed second-highest-ranking American officer in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, “has resisted a troop increase,” and that Gen. John P. Abizaid, leader of the Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, “has said increasing troop strength, especially in Baghdad, could have an impact on the mounting cycle of revenge in which Sunni suicide bombings of Shiite civilian targets have set off murderous attacks on Sunni civilians by Shiite death squads.”
Doesn’t exactly sound like those in the White House who are pushing for a troop surge are receiving ringing endorsements from the uniformed military. Now, the president hasn’t come out publicly either way on this one, but in all the reporting of the proposal we’ve seen, no reporter has bothered to take a walk down memory lane to examine the president’s previous comments on who he takes advice from dealing with troop strength in Iraq.
That, of course, would be the generals. The same generals who in this case are coming out against the White House’s proposals for a troop surge.
Greg Sargent at the Horse’s Mouth blog went ahead and did the research for us, finding several examples of the president saying that what his generals want, in terms of troop strength, his generals get. That reporters have left out this bit of recent history is akin to something we said last week — that too often, newspapers, in their rush to get the latest “he said, she said” duality into their latest editions, forget to include an important ingredient in all good reporting: historical context.
We realize that the president hasn’t made his decision yet, but all signs point to some kind of temporary surge in troop strength in Baghdad. If this happens, we’re curious to see if the president’s past comments about listening to his generals, and what would be the deaf ear he turns to them now, will rise to the level of being newsworthy, or if that bit of history will be left on the cutting room floor.