Appearing on CNN with Larry King on May 30, Vice President Cheney asserted: "I think the level of activity that we see today, from a military standpoint, I think will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."
It appeared to be an entirely unsupported assessment. If the White House has evidence to back it up, however, that would certainly be news worth reporting.
So at yesterday's press briefing, ABC News White House correspondent Terry Moran decided to try to find out.
Unlike some recent lines of inquiry in the briefing room, this one didn't end after one question. Moran was dogged.
Here's the transcript . Here's the video (the exchange starts at 8:10 and lasts for two and a half minutes.)
Not surprisingly, it still didn't work. McClellan said exactly nothing that was remotely new. But the following exchange certainly does call attention to McClellan's inability to answer what ought to be a simple question.
"Q Scott, is the insurgency in Iraq in its last throes?
"MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, you have a desperate group of terrorists in Iraq that are doing everything they can to try to derail the transition to democracy. The Iraqi people have made it clear that they want a free and democratic and peaceful future. And that's why we're doing everything we can, along with other countries, to support the Iraqi people as they move forward. The fact that they are making great progress on the political front is significant because that helps defeat the terrorists, because the terrorists don't want to see democracy take hold. They don't want lasting democratic institutions to be put in place. And that's why we are standing with the Iraqi people as they move forward on the political front.
"We're also standing with the Iraqi people as they move forward on -- to address the security situation. We are working side by side with Iraqi forces now to defeat those terrorists and regime elements who want to derail the transition to democracy. And every day we move forward on democracy and training Iraqi security forces is every day closer that we are to succeeding in Iraq.
"Q But the insurgency is in its last throes?
"MR. McCLELLAN: The Vice President talked about that the other day -- you have a desperate group of terrorists who recognize how high the stakes are in Iraq. A free Iraq will be a significant blow to their ambitions.
"Q But they're killing more Americans, they're killing more Iraqis. That's the last throes?
"MR. McCLELLAN: Innocent -- I say innocent civilians. And it doesn't take a lot of people to cause mass damage when you're willing to strap a bomb onto yourself, get in a car and go and attack innocent civilians. That's the kind of people that we're dealing with. That's what I say when we're talking about a determined enemy.
"Q Right. What is the evidence that the insurgency is in its last throes?
"MR. McCLELLAN: I think I just explained to you the desperation of terrorists and their tactics.
"Q What's the evidence on the ground that it's being extinguished?
"MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, we're making great progress to defeat the terrorist and regime elements. You're seeing Iraqis now playing more of a role in addressing the security threats that they face. They're working side by side with our coalition forces. They're working on their own. There are a lot of special forces in Iraq that are taking the battle to the enemy in Iraq. And so this is a period when they are in a desperate mode.
"Q Well, I'm just wondering what the metric is for measuring the defeat of the insurgency.
"MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you can go back and look at the Vice President's remarks. I think he talked about it.
"Q Yes. Is there any idea how long a last throe lasts for?
"MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Steve."