It appears President Bush has changed his policy of not revealing how many of the enemy U.S. forces are killing in Iraq. Until now, the president and top military officials have worried about the Vietnam-like appearance of giving out body counts. But today at the Pentagon, the president gave out a body count.
In late October, when I was in a small group of writers who met with Bush in the Oval Office, he was pressed on the question of the numbers of enemy killed. If the U.S. military is killing large numbers of insurgents and terrorists, the president was asked, shouldn’t the American public know about it?
“We’ve made a conscious effort not to be a body count team,” the president answered. “It’s frustrating for me. So like I asked [General] Pete Pace, how we doing? Every day, by the way — so you know — I see who dies on our team. I don’t see who dies on their team. And so it gives you the impression that [American forces] are just there, they’re kind of moving around, directing traffic, and somebody takes a shot at them and they’re down. That’s not exactly what’s happening.”
Bush didn’t say it outright, but he made it clear that, when it came to body counts, the military wanted to avoid the appearance of a Vietnam-style situation. “I share the same frustration you share,” Bush said. “And the American people, most of them out there, are saying, ‘How are you doing? Get after them.’ But…I think the judgment is right in the Pentagon not to be talking about the number we kill and capture on a weekly basis because it then begins to — ” The president paused. “They’re just fearful,” he continued, referring to the Pentagon. “There’s a culture over there. And I believe they’re right. Maybe we’re wrong.”
By the end of the meeting, Bush left the impression that he would reconsider the issue. And today, after a meeting with top officials at the Pentagon, the president discussed American casualties and then added:
Our commanders report that the enemy has also suffered. Offensive operations by Iraqi and coalition forces against terrorists and insurgents and death squad leaders have yielded positive results. In the months of October, November, and the first week of December, we have killed or captured nearly 5,900 of the enemy.
The old policy, apparently, has changed.