Russert Tweaks Safire on Iraq Predictions

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By: E&P Staff

Former — and still sometimes guest — columnist for The New York Times, William Safire is famous for his annual predictions and a contest that asks for the forecasts of others. He re-appeared on the Times’ op-ed page this week with his 2007 installment. Much of it is in good fun, but the fun stops when it comes to pundits’ predictions on Iraq, which have turned out horribly wrong in most cases — see David Brooks and Thomas Friedman at the Times, for example.

On the year-end Meet the Press this week, Safire continued to toast President Bush — who announced last month that he was giving the columnist the Medal of Freedom — in commenting, “The Iraq story is obviously the big story of the year. And I look at the Trumanesque quality in the White House now. You have a president who is facing all this bad news coming out of Iraq and the casualties and the brink of civil war. And he?s hanging in there and he?s not admitting defeat, he?s not embracing defeatism. And he?s coming up with another approach, and who knows, he may turn it around.”

This was, perhaps, a bit much for Russert to take, as a little later in the show he observed, “Let me talk about Iraq and we?re going to talk about Mr. Safire?s office pool, the various options you lay out. But first, because this is a program of accountability, let me?Bill?bring Bill Safire back, January 2nd, 2005. Two years ago, his prediction about Iraq. Let?s read: ‘I think we?re going to win in Iraq. I think by the end of next year,’ — that would be the end of ?06 — ‘we?ll have begun to withdraw our forces. We won?t have them out, but we?ll have begun to withdraw. ? I don?t see a long civil war there.?

How do you plead? Russert then asked.

“Optimistic, and frankly,” Safire explained, and then adding, Judith Miller style, “that was as well-sourced a prediction as I?ve ever had.”

Russert failed to mention that in Safire’s office pool for 2004, issued at the very end of 2003, he forecast that Iraq would “defeat the insurgents and emerge a rudimentary democracy.”

Safire would later declared, in a Feb. 11, 2004, column in the Times, that the “smoking gun” had been found offering a “clear link” between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

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