Nancy Pelosi Makes Surprise Trip to Iraq – What Exactly Did She Say?

May 18 2008 Published by under Featured News

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made an unannounced visit to Baghdad on Saturday to meet with various U.S. and Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Even though she acknowledged that Iraq has made progress, Pelosi continued to emphasize that the war must be brought to an end. But the Associated Press offers conflicting accounts that obscure what Pelosi said about the results of her meetings.

As of this writing, Pelosi hasn’t made a full statement regarding her Iraq trip (at least, not one available on her U.S. House web site, which prints all of her press releases). Based on current media reports, Pelosi applauded the Iraqi parliament for some significant legislative achievements, which included passing a long-delayed budget, as well as establishing provincial powers that pave the way for new elections. Lee Keath of the Associated Press writes:

“We’re assured the elections will happen here, they will be transparent, they will be inclusive and they will take Iraq closer to the reconciliation we all want it to have,” said Pelosi. She also met with Iraq’s parliament speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq.

This cautiously optimistic tone is atypical of Pelosi, who has been a reliable and consistent critic of the Iraq war. Granted, she’s not likely to be as strident in her criticism when she’s on the ground in Iraq, when the people who will be affected by the policies she advocates are staring her in the face. However, any inkling of positive and/or hopeful rhetoric from Speaker Pelosi regarding Iraq is noteworthy.

But even as she projected an unusually sanguine tone on Saturday regarding Iraqi provincial elections, Pelosi didn’t appear to back off her anti-war rhetoric. Kim Gamel of the Associated Press writes:

“It has already taken far too many American and Iraqi lives, it has cost far too much in money and the reputation of the United States, and it has drained far too much from the capability of our military,” [Pelosi] said in a statement…

“The Iraqi officials said that provincial elections would be held this year and that they would be transparent, inclusive, and a step toward national reconciliation. I hope this will be the case,” she said.

Unlike the story written by Lee Keath, Gamel’s first quote from Pelosi is about ending the war, not her remark about Iraq’s provincial elections. Instead, Gamel closes her story with Pelosi’s hope for inclusive elections.

Keath and Gamel both bury Pelosi’s visit deep in their stories, because she wasn’t the focus in either case – Keath’s story is about Iraq’s crackdown in Mosul; Gamel’s story is about a soldier apologizing for using a Qu’ran for target practice. In Keath’s version, Pelosi says the reconciliation of Iraq is something “we all want it to have,” and also that “we’re assured” that the elections will be fair. In Gamel’s version, Pelosi says “I hope this will be the case,” and doesn’t make a personal assurance that the elections will be fair.

Well, which is it? “I hope this will be the case” is relatively circumspect and non-committal. But if she said “we all want” Iraq to reconcile, that would put her in a difficult position. After all, how can she continue to press for troop withdrawals if “we all want” Iraq to reconcile? Clearly, if the troop surge has made it possible for Iraq to overcome significant legislative deadlocks, Pelosi’s desire to pull out troops is irresponsible.

It’s not as if someone could have mistaken the phrase “we all want it to have” with “I hope this will be the case.” One of the AP reporters, Keath or Gamel, must have made an error. On the other hand, maybe they’re both right – Pelosi might have had a different tone in spoken remarks (which Keath seems to refer to) as opposed to a written statement (which Gamel explicitly refers to). Hopefully, Speaker Pelosi will post an official statement on her web site soon. Depending on which account you read, you could get a very different impression of what Pelosi meant.

Commentary Magazine’s Abe Greenwald read the Keath version, and he points out that a few months ago, Pelosi had pronounced the surge a failure. In February, Pelosi said, “The purpose of the surge was to create a secure time for the government of Iraq to make the political change to bring reconciliation to Iraq. They have not done that.” In fairness to Pelosi, she was the victim of bad timing in saying that the surge had failed – three days later, the Iraqi parliament passed the above-mentioned legislation on the budget and provincial elections. Although long overdue, the surge did appear to create a space for Iraqi legislators to overcome a few significant obstacles.

If Keath is right, then Pelosi needs to be asked if she has finally begun to see some wisdom in Petraeus’ counter-insurgency strategy. If Gamel’s right, then Pelosi needs to be asked if she thinks Iraq’s legislative achievements could have been made without the surge. If they’re both right, Pelosi needs to clarify exactly how badly she wants Iraq to reconcile.

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