When I cancelled my subsription to the Washington Post in 2004, the woman on the other end of the phone asked me, as she was required to do, what my reason was. I responded, “Dana Milbank.” Milbank’s abominable coverage of President Bush wasn’t my only reason, of course, but it pretty much captured the problem.
These days, I wouldn’t cite Milbank. He’s left the Whitee House beat and set up shop on page 2 where he produces “human comedy” style reporting in which he takes mostly deft shots at politicians from both parties, though more Republicans than Democrats.
Evidently, though, Milbank’s hatred of President Bush has not abated, and today he produced a disgraceful column in which he attacks Bush for once again playing the al Qaeda card in Iraq. Milbank declares: “The man who four years ago admitted ‘no evidence’ of an Iraqi role in the Sept. 11 attacks now finds solid evidence of a role in Iraq by the Sept. 11 hijackers.” Milbank goes on to suggest that Bush’s argument flies in the face of the Pentagon inspector general’s conclusion that al Qaeda had no ties to Iraq before the U.S. invasion. He thus engages in the absurd pretense that there’s a contradiction between the view (which itself isn’t quite true) that al Qaeda wasn’t in Iraq in 2002 and the view that it’s there today.
But surely Milbank understands that the level of contact between al Qaeda and Iraq prior to our invasion tells us nothing about the extent of al Qaeda’s presence in Iraq today. Bush’s argument, as reported by Milbank, is that we should remain in Iraq and “fight against the same international terrorist network that attacked us on 9/11.” It’s a pretty good argument, good enough that Milbank wants to change the subject and talk about whether al Qaeda was in Iraq before 9/11. But whatever was true pre-invasion, no one seems to dispute that al Qaeda is there now. The question is whether we will remain to take it on, or give up that fight.
Milbank makes a second argument which is as bad as the first. He claims that Bush’s focus on al Qaeda is inconsistent with the administration’s effort to curb sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia elements. “If the problem in Iraq isn’t sectarian strife,” Milbank wonders, “then why is the U.S. military building walls to separate Sunnit enclaves from Shiite neighborhoods?” He then quotes with approval the following question that NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell asked Tony Snow: “Wasn’t the whole point of the surge to quell the capital and. . .diminish the sectarian violence?”
Again, Milbank is being disingenuous. The adminstration correctly sees both sectarian strife and al Qaeda violence as problems. It also sees a relationship between the two. As Bush said in his speech announcing the surge, al Qaeda attacks on Shia holy sites, for example, have fueled sectarian violence by spurring retaliation. And speaking of the surge, have Milbank and O’Donnell forgotten that one of its elements is a new strategy (along with 4,000 additional troops) for fighting al Qaeda in Anbar province?
Al Qaeda’s enhanced presence in Iraq was a good talking for the Democrats when they were trying to convince Americans that our invasion was a mistake. It’s not such a good talking point now that the Dems are pushing for withdrawal and defeat. That’s why they’ve stopped talking about it. Milbank would have well advised to follow their lead.
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