Watchdog Blog

Dan Froomkin: Holding Bush to His Benchmarks

Posted at 4:02 pm, February 14th, 2007
Dan Froomkin Mug

It was a rare White House moment: A senior administration official actually inviting the press corps to hold the White House accountable on its Iraq policy.

Can we please take him up on it?

At a White House press briefing on January 10 on Bush’s plan to send more troops into Iraq, one of the two anonymous officials speaking on behalf of the administration made this startlingly verifiable promise to a press corps justifiably skeptical of the plan’s dependence on Iraqi help:

“SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, here’s — but you’re going to have to — you’re going to have some opportunities to judge very quickly. The Iraqis are going to have three brigades within Baghdad within a little more than a month. They have committed to trying to get one brigade in, I think, by the first of February, and two more by the 15th. . . .

“So people are going to be able to see pretty quickly that the Iraqis are or are not stepping up. And that provides the ability to judge.”

So what’s the verdict?

Tomorrow is the 15th. Are three new Iraqi brigades in place within Baghdad?

I don’t know. So far, reports are inconsistent at best.

As I wrote in my February 6 “White House Watch” column for, it looked to me like that very first Feb. 1 deadline — for the first brigade — had been missed.

Steven R. Hurst reported on Feb. 1 for the Associated Press:

“Local commanders. . . . said only about 2,000 of the additional troops had reached Baghdad or were nearby. . . .

“An Iraqi army brigade from Irbil, about 3,000 men in principle, will have at most 1,500 men when it finally arrives in Baghdad. The commander says 95 percent of the men don’t speak Arabic. A brigade from Sulaimaniyah, also in the Kurdish north, has reached the Muthana Airport in central Baghdad, but it is only 1,000-men strong, not the expected 3,000.”

At a Defense Department briefing on Feb. 2, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace confirmed that Iraqi troop strength is not where it ought to be.

“Q Mr. Secretary, yesterday General Casey said that of the Iraqi units that have shown up with the new Baghdad security plan, they are at 55 to 65 percent strength. Do you consider that meeting the commitment that the Iraqis made?

” SEC. GATES: Well, I think that partly it will depend on how quickly they get back up to strength. . . . I guess my answer is, 55 percent probably isn’t good enough….

“Q Whatever the reason, does that — does a unit, an Iraqi unit at two-thirds strength, constitute meeting their part of the deal here?

“GEN. PACE: It needs to be stronger than that.”

Louise Roug wrote in the Los Angeles Times on Feb. 10:

“A month after the Bush administration announced a ‘surge’ in troops for Baghdad, Iraqis are still waiting for anything to change.

“Fewer than 20% of the additional Iraqi and American troops have arrived so far…

“So far, 3,000 U.S. troops and about 2,000 Iraqi counterparts have arrived here, according to U.S. officials. ‘I will be surprised if we can generate forces faster,’ said the senior official.”

Pamela Hess of (Unification Church-owned) United Press International wrote on Feb. 14, declaring the benchmark had been reached:

“Iraqi troops have passed a key test by showing up at 70 percent strength or better for President Bush’s ‘surge’ in Baghdad, a senior U.S. general said.

“’This movement of these three brigades and two separate battalions into Baghdad to our way of looking at it has gone very well,’ Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, said in an interview.

“Gen. Dempsey said three brigades had shown up with between 70 percent and 75 percent of their soldiers. While a Kurdish unit from Sulaimaniyah and Kirkuk arrived with only 56 percent of its expected troops, he said, other inbound units from the Kurdish north were expected to arrive with 70 percent of their troops or more.

“A battalion has 759 soldiers at full strength. A brigade is three battalions plus 200 soldiers, about 2,500.

“Though those percentages would be dismal by American standards for a deploying unit, a different calculus applies in Iraq. At any given time, one-quarter of an Iraqi unit is on leave, taking their pay home to their families because there is no functioning banking system. An additional 10 percent of the units remain behind to guard their garrison buildings.

“’So when you do all the math, we are a little concerned and remain so about one of those brigades,’ Gen. Dempsey said, referring to the Sulaimaniyah unit.”

Are Hess’s number reliable? Do they add up? And is something around 70 percent really considered a passing grade?

Does that reasonably fulfill the Iraqis’ commitment to having three brigades in Baghdad?

Remember what the senior administration official said:

“[P]eople are going to be able to see pretty quickly that the Iraqis are or are not stepping up. And that provides the ability to judge.”

4 Responses to “Holding Bush to His Benchmarks”

  1. Bonnie Tamres-Moore says:

    Hi Dan,

    I was rereading “State of Denial” yesterday and found something really interesting about intelligence on Iranian weapons. Go to page 474, the paragraph beginning : “Other intelligence added to the bleak picture….” Why did we not hear about this earlier, this ” other intelligence” Did it not suit the administation’s purposes?

    I feel quite uncomfortable writing this. I am not a grassy knoll kind of girl, but the six years has taught me that what seems like paranoia may be just good ole comman sense.

    Warmest regards,

  2. Bonnie Tamres-Moore says:

    Sorry, forgot to say_ pages 474 and 475 in “State of Denial” regard intelligence on Iranian EFPs

  3. Everett Miller says:

    Has anyone in the vaunted Washington Press Corps ever wondered out loud whether Dub has enough IQ points to be president. Certainly, no President of the United States has done more damage to the founding principles of that country than the Texas Knucklehead. He has to be dumber than a bag of hammers.

    And aren’t his blatant lies about WMDs in Iraq, his criminal neglect of the survivors of hurricane Katrina, and his hare brained tax cuts and corresponding deficits alone grounds for impeachment. Sweet Jesus! How I long for the day he’s led out of the Oval Office in handcuffs.

  4. zb says:


    If this preemptive doctrine is to continue there needs to be a law which requires people in power to have passed western civilization history course with a good grade and understand western civilization along with being able to answer basic questions about it and middle eastern history.

    For sure I am not qualified for this type of position and I don’t remember Alexander the great doing “shock and awe”, destroying all political, religious, and economic structure of a nation then try to rebuild it from scratch.

    At some point the nonsense has to end.

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