Late last month the Brookings Institution's Kenneth Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon, just back from a quick trip to Baghdad, proclaimed in the New York Times that "we are finally getting somewhere in Iraq." In June, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, fresh from his latest whirlwind tour of the war zone, described in the Wall Street Journal a "dramatic reversal" in the security situation in restive Anbar province. As Washington anticipates a September report assessing the troop surge, there is good reason to be skeptical of such snapshot accounts.
A dizzying number of dignitaries have passed through Baghdad for high-level briefings. The Hill newspaper reported this month that 76 U.S. senators have traveled to Iraq during the war, 38 in the past 12 months. Most never left the Green Zone or other well-protected enclaves. Few, if any, changed the views they held before arriving...
The most frustrating such visit during my time in Iraq was that of radio host Laura Ingraham, who rarely, if ever, spent a moment outside the protection of U.S. forces or a night outside a military base. While in Baghdad in February 2006, she wrote on her Web site that the training of the Iraqi army "continues apace" and that "you wouldn't know it by reading the New York Times, but IED attacks are actually down since December." After returning, she continued criticizing Baghdad-based journalists -- almost all of whom operate without military protection -- telling an NBC audience that "to do a show from Iraq means to talk to the Iraqi military, to go out with the Iraqi military, to actually have a conversation with the people instead of reporting from hotel balconies about the latest IEDs going off." ...
Lieberman, who tirelessly campaigned to sustain the war effort, wrote in the Wall Street Journal in November 2005 that "I have just returned from my fourth trip to Iraq in 17 months and can report real progress there." Three months later -- about two weeks after Ingraham's optimistic observations -- came the bombing of a mosque in Samarra that ignited the grisliest sectarian violence of the war to that point.
The Brookings pair, self-described in their Times op-ed as "two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq," are also longtime backers of the invasion and the recent troop surge. Before the war Pollack wrote a book subtitled "The Case for Invading Iraq," and he has found fodder for hope on every visit.
He is also not a fan of war opponents using the tours to also buttress their feelings. However, no one has abused this method more than the right wingers. From John McCain's embarrassing rah-rah self-evident bullshit tour that was the first, and steepestl, cliff he fell off in mangling his presidential ambitions to the idea that Fred Kagan is capable of taking part in military operations (Fred is barely capable of emerging from a plush chair). And, of course, there are idiots like Ingraham who lie about the extent of their visit, while projecting her own behavior upon reporters en masse in Iraq -- where records for deaths have been set. Tell it to Bob Woodruff & Kim Dozier Laura.
And then there is "Mr. Happy" Joe Lieberman, who never met a military action he couldn't love. Every few months he goes to Iraq, sees the dog and pony show, and declares real success "for the first time". He did this in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and of course, twice in 2007. You can safely assume Joe will have his latest "success at last" column in the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post just before Labor Day (which Joe wishes to change to "Likud Day").