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Cheney Clarifies “Last Throes” Comment. Or Does He?

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Vice President Cheney was heavily criticized as “out of touch,” when he said in a May 31 CNN interview that the Iraqi insurgency was in “the last throes.”

He returned to CNN on June 23 to clarify his comments.

“If you look at what the dictionary says about throes, it can still be a violent period, the throes of a revolution.” Cheney told Wolf Blitzer. “The point would be that the conflict will be intense, but it’s intense because the terrorists understand if we’re successful at accomplishing our objective — standing up a democracy in Iraq — that that’s a huge defeat for them. They’ll do everything they can to stop it.”

So there you have it. He wasn’t suggesting that the insurgency was diminishing — as was widely interpreted, even by his defenders. He was just saying that it was almost over. Right, Dick?

BLITZER: Do you want to offer an assessment how much longer this insurgency will continue?

CHENEY: No. No, I can’t say that. …

BLITZER: But is this going to be a time frame within a year, two years, five years, how much longer will this insurgency require the troop level of the United States in Iraq right now?

CHENEY: I think the way to think about it is defining it in terms of achieving certain conditions on the ground. We don’t want to stay a day longer than necessary, but we want to stay long enough to get the job done.

***

I took Cheney’s advice, and looked up “throes” on dictionary.com. Sure enough, Cheney was right, the second definition reads:

n violent pangs of suffering; “death throes”

I certainly feel better. Regardless of what Cheney’s “last throes” comment meant, at least Americans can be rest assured that his grammatical skills are sound.

***

Cheney’s interview with Blitzer folllows a key chapter from the Bushspeak handbook. Make a big statement that will get widespread attention, the chapter reads. If you need to later contradict yourself, rest assured that fewer people will notice.

For example, President Bush made a broad sweeping statements about Saddam Hussein seeking enriched uranium in Africa — offered in a State of the Union address — only to have the White House retract the statement six months later. Earlier this month, it happened again, when the administration, one month after the fact, retracted a statement that terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi visiting Syria to plan bombings in Iraq.

It helps when you are interviewed by a lightweight like Blitzer, who asks questions as if they’re on cue cards. No independent thought required. Blitzer assumes his guests are telling the truth, and seldom contradicts them, or offers alternative information that would allow him to play devil’s advocate, let alone vigorously fight for the truth.

Unfortunately for Cheney, the impact of his Bushspeakwas minimal, because he was contradicted — coincidentally on June 23 — by the top American commander in the Persian Gulf, Gen. John Abizaid.

Abizaid, testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee, indicated the insurgency was not weakening.

“I believe there are more foreign fighters coming into Iraq than there were six months ago,” he said, adding the overall strength of the insurgency was “about the same” as six months ago. “We are not trying to paint a rosy picture.”

Told by Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee’s senior Democrat, that his assessment directly contradicted Cheney, Abizaid said: “I don’t know that I would make any comment about that other than to say there’s a lot of work to be done … I gave you my opinion.”

***

Whatever you make of Cheney’s “last throes” comment — and feel free to accept it as “it will soon be over” or “they can only keep up this intense violence for a little longer” or any number of other things– recently published statistics suggest otherwise.

An April 27 Washington Post story, based on statistics provided to Congressional aides, found terrorist incidents in Iraq had increased,from 22 attacks in 2003 to 198 last year, a 900% increase. That contradicts the Bush administration’s assertion that the situation there had stabilized significantly after the U.S. handover of political authority to an interim Iraqi government last summer.

Why is the Post report based on information from aides, and not from some published State Department report? Because the State Department said in April that it was breaking with tradition in withholding the statistics on terrorist attacks from its congressionally mandated annual report.

Although the State Department said the data would still be made public by the new National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which prepares the information, officials at the center said no decision to publish the statistics has been made.

“Last year was bad. This year is worse. They are deliberately trying to withhold data because it shows that as far as the war on terrorism internationally, we’re losing,” said Larry C. Johnson, a former senior State Department counterterrorism official in the first Bush administration, who first revealed the decision not to publish the data.

***

As you might expect, Blitzer didn’t ask Cheney about the statistics. Better to let him provide Bushspeak on the “last throes” in Iraq — whatever that means.

***

This article first appeared on Journalists Against Bush’s B.S. (JABBS)

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About David R. Mark