Monday, June 02, 2008

Grading PolitiFact: NATO not cooperating on Afghanistan because of Iraq?

Robert Farley's May 13 item for PolitiFact assessed the following statement from Barack Obama:

"If we’re going to catch (Osama) bin Laden, or most importantly, break down al-Qaida ... we’ve got to have the capacity to put more troops in Afghanistan ... both our troops and NATO troops.

"Right now, we don’t have enough troops and NATO hasn’t provided enough troops because they are still angry about us going into Iraq."

By the time the reader has read the opening of Farley's piece, the "Truth O Meter" rating maxed out as "True" with a bright green dot to emphasize the clarity and purity of the truth has been apparent to the right of the lead paragraph.

The fun part consists of seeing how Farley made the determination.
Late in 2007, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made several public, but largely fruitless, pleas to NATO countries for the commitment of more troops in Afghanistan.
If we count France, Belgium and Hungary, it appears we should call Farley's assessment "Partly True." I wonder where we draw the line between "partially successful" and "largely fruitless"?

Farley next cites a Congressional Research Service report for the key support of Obama's claim. The CRS is the gold standard of truth for many journalists.
A Congressional Research Service report for Congress, submitted Jan. 7, 2008, states that Gates "acknowledged that domestic political problems are preventing some allies from increasing their force levels in Afghanistan. Allied government officials state privately that their populations are reluctant to follow the Bush Administration, largely due to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and subsequent criticism of the United States in Europe and the Middle East."
If we assume that the "subsequent criticism" is centered on Iraq policy, then Obama gets a big boost from that one. If not--and the text of the report suggests not--then Obama is telling part of the truth.
Later, the report cites a "highly respected" German Marshall Fund poll that found a sharp decline in European public opinion toward U.S. leadership due to the U.S. policy in the Iraq war.
Here, Farley and PolitiFact are "Half True." The German Marshall Fund poll found a decrease in public opinion toward U.S. leadership, but it was the CRS report by Paul Gallis that attached the cause to the Iraq War ("the principal cause"). Perhaps Farley was fooled by the footnote following Gallis' judgment of the root cause, supposing that Gallis' statement had to have come from the listed source. In any event, the German Marshall Fund poll does not draw the conclusion that Gallis derives. Not on pages 5-7 nor anywhere else.

Bear in mind that Gallis is calling the Iraq War the "principal cause" of diminishing public support in Europe for U.S. leadership, a issue different though related to support for the NATO mission in Afghanistan. PolitiFact could have pointed out that Gallis donated to the presidential campaign of John F. Kerry in 2004, but no doubt that would have been a red herring given the wonderful reputation enjoyed by the CRS.
The report concludes that, "This decline is complicating the effort of allied governments to sustain support for the ... mission" in Afghanistan.
And if it complicates it, then the decline is the cause of limited NATO support for the mission in Afghanistan and we can safely overlook things like the overall weakness of our military allies in NATO who are hard pressed to even spare peace-keepers in Lebanon over the past couple of years as well as the differences in philosophy in addressing the needs in Afghanistan.

Do I really need to pick apart that logic in detail? Farley has been careless in his reasoning, and his editor has set the bar too low (unless we're playing limbo, in which case the bar is set way too high).

The European complaint, in truth, probably adds up to this: Yes, the Europeans attach Afghanistan to Iraq, but not out of anger over Iraq, but because if the United States were not engaged in Iraq then the U.S. could bear the full responsibility for the mission in Afghanistan and Europe likes its role as a free rider on issues of security.

PolitiFact lets Obama slide by with a gross distortion and adds their endorsement to it.

Yet another reason why PolitiFact can't begin to compare to Annenberg (

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