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"We're Making Progress" - Bush's History of Iraq

July 13, 2007

In Washington yesterday, George W. Bush encountered what might be deemed the "reverse Chicken Little moment" of his presidency. That is, Americans have simply stopped believing his perpetual claims of sunny skies to come in Iraq.
As the President delivered the interim progress report on his Iraq surge, he was greeted with dropped jaws and incredulous stares across the political spectrum. It wasn't just anti-war stalwart Jack Murtha calling Bush "delusional." On Friday, Bill O'Reilly told his former Fox News colleague Tony Snow "you can't win" in Iraq. And long-time GOP speechwriter and conservative cheerleader Peggy Noonan labeled Bush's performance "weird" and "strange."
It's not just that 71% of Americans believe U.S. troops should be largely withdrawn by next April or that 79% believe that Bush's surge has made the situation in Iraq no better or worse. As Noonan reports, even a faithful Republican in Georgia reported "I don't believe a word that comes out of his mouth." With the apparent exception of Bush's own academic experience, a score of 8 out of 18 benchmarks is usually considered a failing grade. It's no wonder GOP Senators John Warner (R-VA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) are just the latest to defy President Bush with their proposed Iraq war reauthorization legislation.
In his press conference, President Bush chalked up Americans' diminishing support to "war fatigue:"

"I understand why the American people are -- you know, they're tired of the war. There is -- people are -- there is a war fatigue in America. It's affecting our psychology. I've said this before. I understand that this is an ugly war."

Sadly for the President, Americans' lack of support for him on Iraq has less to do with the aesthetics of the war than with Bush's never-ending refrain that "we're making progress."
As a brief review of the history will show, President Bush from the outset of the war in Iraq has claimed "we're making progress." And at virtually every turn, of course, he was wrong. And now, the American people have simply stopped listening.

"It's a different kind of war we fight. It's important for you to understand that. John understands that. You see, in the old days, if you destroyed tanks and airplanes, you knew you were making progress." (November 3, 2002)
"And so we're making progress. It's slowly but surely making progress of bringing the -- those who terrorize their fellow citizens to justice, and making progress about convincing the Iraqi people that freedom is real." (July 30, 2003)
"Turns out this is our hundredth day since major military operations have ended, ended in Iraq. And since then, we've made good progress." (August 8, 2003)
"They assured me that they were making good progress, that the Iraqi people are overwhelmingly pleased that Saddam is gone, that they do see a bright future, and they want us to -- they want to work with us." (Discussing conversations with Chalabi and Talabani, November 27, 2003)
"Having broken the Baathist regime, we face a remnant of violent Saddam supporters. Men who ran away from our troops in battle are now dispersed and attack from the shadows. These killers, joined by foreign terrorists, are a serious, continuing danger. Yet we're making progress against them." (2004 State of the Union Address, Ahmed Chalabi in attendance, January 20, 2004)
"Weeks such as we've had in Iraq make some doubt whether or not we're making progress. I understand that. It was a tough, tough period. But we are making progress." (April 13, 2004)
"They're trying to stop progress, because they understand what freedom means to their terrorist ambitions. And so we're making progress, you bet." (April 30, 2004)
"And people who feel like that they can wreak havoc on innocent Iraqis will be brought to justice in Iraq, either by Iraqi citizens and/or by coalition forces. And we're making progress" (May 5, 2004)
"We're making progress. Yet there still is much work to do." (May 24, 2004)
"A free Iraq will make America more secure. And we're making progress toward that goal." (June 17, 2004)
"We're making progress on the ground." (August 23, 2004)
"We are still -- we are still confronting serious violence from determined enemies. Yet, the Iraqi Interim Government, with American and coalition support, is making progress, week by week." (October 25, 2004)
"And so I -- the notion that somehow we're not making progress I just don't subscribe to." (January 26, 2005)
"And we're making progress. I've talked to General Casey quite frequently. And he keeps us abreast of the progress being made." (March 16, 2005)
"We're making progress toward the goal, which is, on the one hand, a political process moving forward in Iraq, and on the other hand, the Iraqis capable of defending themselves." (June 20, 2005)
"Our mission in Iraq, as I said earlier, is to fight the terrorists, is to train the Iraqis. And we're making progress training the Iraqis. Oh, I know it's hard for some Americans to see that progress, but we are making progress." (August 11, 2005)
"I'll remind the people that we're making progress on two fronts -- a political front." (August 23, 2005)
"We're making progress toward peace. We're making progress toward an ally that will join us in the war on terror, that will prevent al Qaeda from establishing safe haven in Iraq, and a country that will serve as an example for others who aspire to live in freedom" (October 16, 2005)
"Iraq is making steady progress in fighting terrorists, meeting political milestones, building democratic institutions, and standing up security forces." (from Bush's "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," November 30, 2005)
"The training of the Iraqi police is an enormous task and, frankly, it hasn't always gone smoothly. Yet we're making progress." (January 10, 2006)
"I also said that for every act of violence there is encouraging progress in Iraq that's hard to capture on the evening news…No question that sectarian violence must be confronted by the Iraqi government and a better-trained police force. Yet we're making progress." (March 21, 2006)
"It's tough because people are trying to stop the advance of democracy. And I'm convinced we're making progress there." (April 4, 2006)
"The American people need to know we are making progress toward a goal of an Iraq that can defend itself, sustain itself and govern itself." (May 25, 2006)
"These people need to be stopped. They can't stand the thought of the Iraqis being able to worship freely. They want safe haven, and they've chosen Anbar as their place to achieve safe haven. We've got a lot of really fine troops fighting al Qaeda and we're making progress." (January 11, 2007)
"You know, the Iraq government has been in office about a year. And they're beginning to make some progress toward political benchmarks it has set, political benchmarks I support." (May 2, 2007)
"We're making progress in Operation Phantom Thunder." (June 28, 2007)
"I believe we can succeed and I believe we are making security progress that will enable the political tract to succeed, as well." (July 12, 2007)

So much for our walk down memory lane. As President Bush turned each new corner, he assured the American that the sky wasn't falling in Iraq. So when Bush on Thursday declared the United States was making progress, Americans treated him like Chicken Little. And ignored him.
UPDATE: Looks like Oliver Willis beat me to the punch with this whole concept.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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