Accuracy in Media

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has been forced to write a letter to the editor of the Washington Post correcting a story that he said “misrepresented a straightforward account of the conditions” he found in Iraq. Contrary to the Post account, he said he did not “tacitly acknowledge” the judgment of people who were critical of planning for the occupation of Iraq. And he said he didn’t “echo” other claims that planning for the aftermath of the war was somehow deficient.

The Post story by Peter Slevin and Dana Priest ran under the headline, “Wolfowitz Concedes Errors.” It was an attempt to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by harping on problems in post-war Iraq. The story was supposed to be based on a briefing Wolfowitz gave at the Pentagon upon his return from Iraq. Here’s what Wolfowitz actually said, “There’s been a lot of talk that there was no plan. There was a plan, but as any military officer can tell you, no plan survives first contact with reality. Inevitably, some of our assumptions turned out to be wrong. Fortunately, many things turned out to be much better than our assumptions, in no small measure, I think, because of a brilliant military plan that achieved extraordinary surprise.”

Some of the assumptions were wrong, but that’s good news. As Wolfowitz said, “There is no humanitarian crisis. There is no refugee crisis. There is no health crisis. There has been minimal damage to?infrastructure; minimal war damage, lots of regime damage over decades, but minimal war damage to infrastructure except for telecommunications, which we had to target. There has been no environmental catastrophe, either from oil well fires or from dam breaks. And there has been no need for massive oil field repair.”

Those statements were not reported by the Post. Instead, the paper said that he made an “acknowledgment” that “some assumptions” about the aftermath of war were “wrong,” and that his admissions “faintly echoed one of the primary complaints registered by many current and former U.S. officials since before the occupation began.”

The Post ignored the good news. Wolfowitz explained, “There is no food crisis. I might point out we planned for a food crisis; fortunately, there isn’t one. Hospitals nationwide are open. Doctors and nurses are at work. Medical supply convoys are escorted to and from the warehouses. We planned for a health crisis; there isn’t one. Oil production has passed the 1 million barrels per day mark. We planned for the possibility of massive destruction of this resource of the Iraqi people; we didn’t have to do it.”

Although some troops are tired and want to go home, Wolfowitz said, “everywhere I went, I found troops with heartwarming stories about the reception they had gotten from Iraqis and how wonderful it felt to get that kind of reception?” He said the troops were upset that the people back home were not getting an accurate picture of what is happening in Iraq. Wolfowitz suggested that reporters in the U.S. “might be able to help in that regard” by getting the truth out, but he shouldn’t count on it.

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