Sunday, October 04, 2009

What Odierno really said

Wednesday, General Ray Odierno testified to Congress. Thursday, he held a press conference at the Pentagon. Neither even was closed to the public but it might as well have been when you consider how the press has distorted what was said.


To follow press 'summaries,' one is left with the impression that all Odierno said was: "We can speed up the draw-down." But he repeatedly told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday that the he could speed up or slow down the draw-down. On Thursday, responding to AP's Lara Jakes on just that issue, he stated if he felt the need, he would "make a recommendation back to Washington that recommends either we slow down -- slow down our reduction in forces. So that's always been part of the plan."

Asked to explain the election process in Iraq, General Ray Odierno declared, "I'll wal -- Congressman, I'll walk you through in general terms. First, the el - by the [Iraqi] Constitution, the election is supposed to occur no later than the 31st of January. Right now, it's scheduled for the 16th of January. Again, pending the passing of the election law. Once the election is completed, they take 45 days to certify the results of the election. And so what happens is we'll have hundreds of international observers -- maybe thousands, there's going to be quite a few international observers -- as well as the Iraqi High Electoral Commission will certify the results, they will take all complaints and then they will deem the elections to be credible, legitimate or not. That takes forty-five days. Once that happens, you then have thirty days to begin the formation of seating the Council of Representatives. You then have another thirty days to then select the leadership, the presidency, and then you have another time period to select the prime minister and then the Speaker [of Parliament]. So within that time period, we expect that it will take from January to June or so, maybe July, to seat the new government. In 2005, following the elections, the government -- the elections were in December and the government was seated in May of 2005 [he means May of 2006]. This is the Parliamentary system of government and it just takes time for them to do this. So it's -- there is timelines on it, they will follow those timelines strictly, but it will take time to seat that government."

At the press conference, he declared of US troops in Iraq, "what we'll do is we'll hold that in place through the elections and about 60 days after the elections. And depending on how that goes, it's peaceful, and then we will make a determination of coming down to the 50,000-transition force by the first of September." Then?

Repeatedly the press removed all caveats from his testimony to Congress and from his press conference. It was as though the press had turned into the Pointer Sisters and were only interested in "seeing what you wanted to see" ("Slow Hand").

Kurdish-Arab tensions didn't really make it into the press coverage of his Congressional testimony and maybe that's due to the fact that it's not stressed in the (heavily) distributed to the press. US House Rep. Loretta Sanchez raised the issue, noted he had been calling it the number one problem, but he hadn't listed it as the number one issue in his prepared remarks.
He immediately responded that he still believed it to be the most pressing.

But if you ignored the testimony and ignored the press conference and just went with the prepared statement, it was very easy for you to miss moments like those.

Odierno answered questions from Congress at length on Wednesday and from the press on Thursday. Despite that, so much of what he said was misconstrued.

For more on this topic, see "Iraq snapshot," "Iraq snapshot," "General Ray Odierno," "House Armed Services Committee" and "Iraq snapshot."
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