THE WRONG ‘MAIN ENEMY’….Oddly enough, the president used to be fairly responsible when describing al Qaeda’s role in Iraqi violence. Not too terribly long ago, Bush described “the terrorists affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda” — not even the network itself — as the “smallest” component of violence in Iraq.

And then, as the political winds shifted, so too did the president’s rhetoric. In May, Bush declared that al Qaeda is “public enemy No. 1 in Iraq.” Yesterday, he reiterated the point at the Naval War College, describing al Qaeda as “the main enemy” in Iraq.

The point, obviously, is to shift the political debate. If we’re fighting those who were responsible for 9/11 in Iraq, the argument goes, then we can’t withdraw. As such, al Qaeda is suddenly transformed from minor player in Iraq to the sole purpose for our ongoing presence, reality notwithstanding.

Glenn Greenwald recently had an excellent item explaining that several major media outlets are buying into war supporters’ rhetorical shift. Thankfully, McClatchy demonstrated today that some journalists are still willing to fact-check the president.

Facing eroding support for his Iraq policy, even among Republicans, President Bush on Thursday called al Qaida “the main enemy” in Iraq, an assertion rejected by his administration’s senior intelligence analysts.

The reference, in a major speech at the Naval War College that referred to al Qaida at least 27 times, seemed calculated to use lingering outrage over the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to bolster support for the current buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq, despite evidence that sending more troops hasn’t reduced the violence or sped Iraqi government action on key issues.

Retired Major Gen. John Batiste, a former division commander in Iraq turned critic of the war, recently warned everyone about conflating al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents: “[W]e cannot attribute all the violence in Iraq to al-Qaeda. There’s a tendency now to lump it all together, and call it al-Qaeda. We have to be very careful with that.”

Unfortunately, the president disagrees, and hopes Americans won’t know the difference. Kudos to McClatchy’s piece for calling him on it.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.