Russert failed to challenge McCain claims on Lieberman, Gulf War, McCain's plan for Iraq

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

Tim Russert did not challenge Sen. John McCain's dubious claim that it is not "clear-cut" that the war is unpopular nationally because, if it were, Sen. Joe Lieberman "would not have been re-elected in the state of Connecticut." McCain also falsely claimed that "[a]t the time of the first Gulf War, only 15 percent of the American people thought we ought to go to Kuwait and get rid of Saddam Hussein there" and was not challenged by Russert about his changing positions on the number of additional troops he would like to see sent to Iraq.

On the January 21 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert did not challenge Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) dubious claim that it is not "clear-cut" that the war is unpopular nationally because, if it were, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (CT) "would not have been re-elected in the state of Connecticut." Contrary to McCain's suggestion that voters approved of Lieberman's support for the war, as Media Matters for America documented, exit polls indicate that Connecticut voters re-elected Lieberman in 2006 despite that support; further, in the weeks leading up to the election, Lieberman took pains to portray himself as a critic of the war. Russert also failed to challenge McCain's false claim that "[a]t the time of the first Gulf War, only 15 percent of the American people" supported the war. He also allowed McCain to assert, unchallenged, that he "would have liked to have seen more" troops despite, as noted on the weblog The Carpetbagger Report, a statement by McCain during an Armed Services Committee hearing that Bush's plans for Iraq, including the troop increase, "will give the Iraqis and Americans the best chance of success." McCain had also previously called for 20,000 more troops to be sent to Iraq.

McCain has made similar claims about the meaning of Lieberman's election in the past. As Media Matters noted, at a November 8, 2006, press conference, McCain said: "If [the election] had just been [about] Iraq, Joe Lieberman would have never been re-elected in Connecticut, a liberal state, where he supported the president on the war." On the November 12, 2006, edition of NBC's Meet the Press, McCain told Russert that he "would submit, if they were all against the Iraq war that you probably would not have seen my friend Joe Lieberman, who I'm sure will talk about it, re-elected." But later on the same edition of Meet the Press, Lieberman himself suggested that the war was unpopular: "[A]s elected leaders, we cannot conduct our defense and foreign policy, our national security policy, by public opinion polls."

Although he had been a strong supporter of the war, after his August 8, 2006, primary defeat to businessman Ned Lamont, Lieberman distanced himself from his earlier rhetoric on Iraq, repeatedly emphasizing his intent to end the war and bring U.S. forces home in a television ad and various other campaign activities, as Media Matters noted. Additionally, a November 3, 2006, Associated Press article by staff writer Andrew Miga quoted Lieberman attributing his possible re-election to "a lot more reasons than Iraq:"

"I will believe that, if this works out and I win, it is because people wanted me to be their senator for a lot more reasons than Iraq," Lieberman said, noting that voters often approach him to say while they disagree with him on the war, they still support him.

Moreover, exit polls in Connecticut suggested that Lieberman's views on Iraq were not popular in Connecticut, finding that 63 percent of voters support some form of withdrawal from Iraq.

As noted by the weblog Eschaton (written by Atrios, Media Matters senior fellow Duncan Black), McCain also made a false claim about the Gulf War. McCain asserted that "[a]t the time of the first Gulf War, only 15 percent of the American people thought we ought to go to Kuwait and get rid of Saddam Hussein there." As noted on the weblog The Cunning Realist, a January 18, 1991, New York Times article noted a Gallup poll, reportedly taken the day before the January 17 launch of Operation Desert Storm, in which 79 percent of respondents favored the decision to go to war in the Gulf.

In addition, Russert allowed McCain to assert that he "would have liked to have seen more" than 21,500 additional troops sent to Iraq. McCain added: "But do I believe that if it had been up to me would there have been more? Yes." The weblogs Think Progress and the Carpetbagger Report noted that McCain's statement on Meet the Press appeared to conflict with McCain's January 12 Armed Services Committee statement that Bush's "moves will give the Iraqis and Americans the best chance of success." McCain added: "From everything I saw during my trip to Iraq last month, I believe that success is still possible. And I would not support this new strategy if I didn't think it had a real chance of success." McCain's assertion also conflicted with his own calls for 20,000 additional troops prior to Bush's January 10 speech calling for more troops. As Media Matters noted, on October 26, 2006, during a speech in New Hampshire, McCain called for the United States to send "another 20,000 troops" into Iraq, acknowledging that his plan would require "expanding the Army and Marine Corps by as much as 100,000 people." One month earlier, however, on the September 24, 2006, broadcast of CBS' Face the Nation, when asked how many troops the United States should send, McCain answered: "I would say 20 or 30,000." And, as Media Matters has noted, in a January 7 Washington Post op-ed, McCain claimed that "the minimum we should consider" for Iraq is "as many as" five additional brigades in Baghdad and "one or two in Anbar province," which, according to the figures McCain provided, would be anywhere from 21,000 to 35,000 troops.

From the January 21 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:

RUSSERT: Senator, welcome. I want to raise first The Economist magazine, this is the "Economist Intelligence Unit." They say this: "Unless their mission is very well-defined, 20,000 troops are probably too few to make a significant difference -- and may be too few under any circumstances. ... Adding around 20,000 to the 132,000 currently there will increase U.S. capabilities, but not enough to stabilize the country." Do you agree with that?

McCAIN: I am concerned about it, whether it is sufficient numbers or not. I would have liked to have seen more. I looked [Lt.] General [David] Petraeus in the eye and said, "Is that sufficient for you to do the job?" He assured me that he thought it was and that he had been told that if he needed more, he would receive them. I have great confidence in General Petraeus. I think he's one of the finest generals that our military has ever produced, and he has a proven record on that. He wrote the new Army counterinsurgency manual. But do I believe that if it had been up to me would there have been more? Yes, but one of the keys to this is get them over there quickly rather than feed them in piecemeal as some in the Pentagon would like to do today.

RUSSERT: You are a veteran of Vietnam, and you understand when public opinion slips away from support of a war. Here's the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, out this morning. And we asked, if Congress passes a resolution against the president's position on more troops, should President Bush proceed? Yes, 30; no, 65 percent. Two out of three Americans, senator. And look at this breakdown by party. Democrats, 85 percent say no. Independents, voters you know well, 71 percent say no, do not proceed. And now 33 percent, one-third of Republicans, say listen to Congress more than the president. Why shouldn't the American people, after they voted the midterm elections and have a Congress that says no to the president, why shouldn't they be listened to?

McCAIN: Well, I understand their frustration and sometimes anger over the lack of success and lack of progress, particularly coupled with optimistic statements made time after time when things were not going well and deteriorating. At the time of the first Gulf War, only 15 percent of the American people thought we ought to go to Kuwait and get rid of Saddam Hussein there. If it was as clear-cut as some would describe, Tim, Joe Lieberman would not have been re-elected in the state of Connecticut.

Americans are frustrated, they are angry, and they are fed up. And what we need to do is show them a path to success. Because I think -- and also I think we need to make them more aware of the consequences of failure, which would be chaos in the region. And sooner or later, I think Americans might have to return. So I understand their frustration. I believe that President Bush now has the right strategy. I've been deeply disappointed in the strategy in the past, as is well known, and I think this is our last chance. Will it succeed? I can't guarantee that. I think we have a good chance of it, but I guarantee the catastrophic results of failure.

RUSSERT: One of the things the American people do remember, September 11th, 2001, the Taliban had harbored Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and then they read this from the Baltimore Sun: "A U.S. Army infantry battalion fighting in a critical area of eastern Afghanistan is due to be withdrawn within weeks in order to deploy to Iraq. According to Army Brigadier General Anthony Tata and other senior U.S. commanders, that will happen just as the Taliban is expected to unleash a major campaign to cut the vital road between Kabul and Kandahar." Should we be moving troops from Afghanistan, at this delicate stage in that war, to Iraq?

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
NBC
Person
Tim Russert
Show/Publication
Meet the Press
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2006 Elections, 2008 Elections
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