On MSNBC, The Hill's Stoddard claimed Democrats "have an Al Qaeda problem"

››› ››› MATTHEW BIEDLINGMAIER

On the July 24 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, host Tucker Carlson asserted that President Bush "made the case" in a July 24 speech "that Iraq is basically the front lines in our war now against Al Qaeda" and added, "I think that's a very hard argument for [Democrats] to respond to. What are they going to say, 'No. That's not true'? It is true." A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, replied: "I agree with you. ... The Democrats have an Al Qaeda problem." Stoddard provided no support for her assertion or for the suggestion that it is Democrats and not the Bush administration or its congressional supporters who "have an Al Qaeda problem." She made no distinction between Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda in Iraq, a group identified in the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) as its "affiliate." But contrary to her assertions, Democrats have addressed both.

Her remarks recalled a comment made by Weekly Standard writer Stephen F. Hayes on the July 22 edition of NBC's Meet the Press that went unchallenged by host Tim Russert. As Media Matters for America noted, Hayes accused "administration critics" of arguing that "this Al Qaeda threat is overblown," and he claimed that the July 17 NIE undermined these critics:

HAYES: I think for a long time administration critics had begun to make the argument that really this Al Qaeda threat is overblown, that they misled us into the war in Iraq, they're misleading us about the seriousness of the threat from Al Qaeda. And I think what the NIE does, even though in some ways it's, it's very critical of the administration, is it strengthens the basic case that the administration has been making that Al Qaeda remains a serious threat.

Similarly, on Tucker, Stoddard accused Democrats advocating withdrawal from Iraq of "refusing to talk [apparently about Al Qaeda]." MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan then stated that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) had recently addressed the very issue of how to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq even while withdrawing most U.S. troops. In response, Stoddard said that "a lot of times" the issue of dealing with Al Qaeda in Iraq "is dodged."

In fact, Democrats have offered strategies for fighting both Al Qaeda in Iraq and the main Al Qaeda terrorist organization headed by Osama bin Laden, which has been permitted to strengthen significantly in its safe haven along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, according to the NIE. Most recently, the Senate debated an amendment to the defense authorization bill -- offered by Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI) -- that calls for a "reduction" of U.S forces in Iraq but also stipulates that the United States maintain a "limited presence" of troops in the region to protect "United States and Coalition personnel and infrastructure"; to"[t]rain[], equip[], and provid[e] logistic support to the Iraqi Security Forces [ISF]"; and to engage in "targeted counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda, al Qaeda affiliated groups, and other international terrorist organizations."

The Iraq war supplemental (passed in both the House and the Senate but vetoed by President George W. Bush) also specifically states that armed forces in Iraq may be deployed or maintained for "[e]ngaging in targeted special actions limited in duration and scope to killing or capturing members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations with global reach." From section 1904 of the Iraq war supplemental:

After the conclusion of the redeployment specified in subsections (b) and (c), the Secretary of Defense may not deploy or maintain members of the Armed Forces in Iraq for any purpose other than the following:

(1) Protecting American diplomatic facilities and American citizens, including members of the United States Armed Forces.

(2) Serving in roles consistent with customary diplomatic positions.

(3) Engaging in targeted special actions limited in duration and scope to killing or capturing members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations with global reach.

(4) Training and equipping members of the Iraqi Security Forces.

In addition, both Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) have introduced legislation calling for redeployment of U.S. troops in Iraq while retaining a limited presence in the region for "counter-terrorism" operations. Obama introduced legislation in January requiring the redeployment of U.S. troops in Iraq to begin "not later than May 1, 2007." According to the bill, redeployment of U.S. forces is "subject to the exceptions for retention of forces for force protection, counter-terrorism operations, training of Iraqi forces, and other purposes." Similarly, Clinton's legislation, introduced in the Senate in February, would cap the number of troops in Iraq at January 2007 levels and de-authorize the war unless the president certifies that "a phased redeployment of United States military forces from Iraq has begun ... including the transition of United States forces in Iraq to the limited presence and mission of -- (A) training Iraqi security forces; (B) providing logistic support of Iraqi security forces; (C) protecting United States personnel and infrastructure; and (D) participating in targeted counter-terrorism activities."

Further, in response to the most recent NIE, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has specifically referred to the "threat" "from Al Qaeda's senior leadership apparently based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions, not from Iraq." From a July 17 statement:

"The NIE is just the latest report assessing that Al Qaeda has rebuilt its strength to nearly pre-9/11 levels and that the greatest threat we face to the US homeland comes from Al Qaeda's senior leadership apparently based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions, not from Iraq. Since 9/11, terrorist attacks around the world have dramatically increased in number, Al Qaeda has rebuilt safe-havens, and new extremist groups have been inspired by Al Qaeda to further extremist causes and conduct deadly attacks.

"The NIE also demonstrates that the current situation in Iraq has helped to energize Al Qaeda. Changing our strategy in Iraq and narrowing our military mission to countering Al Qaeda terrorism -- as a bipartisan majority in the Senate now favors -- would be the single greatest thing we could do to undermine Al Qaeda's ability to use Iraq as a recruiting and propaganda tool fueling the growth of regional terrorist groups.

On January 31, following her trip to the Middle East, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the situation in Afghanistan "dire," saying in an interview on NPR's Morning Edition: "The war on terror is in Afghanistan." Pelosi added: "The fact that we weakened our commitment to Afghanistan in order to concentrate in Iraq has taken a toll. The vacuum that was created enabled the Taliban to make a comeback." From the January 31 Morning Edition:

MONTAGNE: You also visited Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, why are more troops the answer?

Well, why would one consider more troops going into Afghanistan and not Iraq?

PELOSI: They're two different situations. The war on terror is in Afghanistan. The fact that we weakened our commitment to Afghanistan in order to concentrate in Iraq has taken a toll. The vacuum that was created enabled the Taliban to make a comeback. What was interesting to me in Afghanistan was that the NATO commander there told us that this could be lost.

Now, I did not realize that the situation was that dire in Afghanistan. And we need more troops, but we also need more NATO troops, and we made that clear to the NATO commander, that the countries of NATO had to have more troops there with more discretion, without caveats -- "We can't do this, we can't do that." And also the countries of Europe have to make a stronger economic commitment to the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Additionally, both Clinton and Obama have specifically addressed the threat of Al Qaeda outside of Iraq. In an October 31, 2006, speech, Clinton called for focus on Afghanistan:

Now, we talk a great deal about Iraq and not enough about Afghanistan, where our failures have squandered much of what our military accomplished and limited the reach and positive impact of [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai's moderate, democratic government.

[...]

It is a great and brave thing that our allies from Canada, Britain, the Netherlands and other NATO countries have done by sending troops to Afghanistan. But Afghanistan and NATO need us as a leading partner, to help with security, to root out corruption, to find alternatives to opium, to improve the situation with Pakistan. We know the general area where the leaders of the Taliban and probably the leaders of Al Qaeda are. It is a failure of our policies on all fronts that five years later they are sending waves of fighters into Afghanistan from their safe havens. The stakes are unbearably high: for Afghanistan, for Pakistan, for the country's northern neighbors in Central Asia; for the reach of Al Qaeda; and for our own credibility and leadership.

Obama has also mentioned the need to focus on Afghanistan and other regions outside of Iraq. Obama's "Vision of American Security in the 21st Century" is outlined in a document offered on his campaign website. Obama's plan:

De-escalates the War with Phased Redeployment. Commences a phased redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq not later than May 1, 2007, with the goal of removing all combat brigades by March 31, 2008, a date consistent with the expectation of the Iraq Study Group.

[...]

Focus on the Broader Middle East and Central Asia. Barack Obama would refocus our efforts on the challenges in the wider Middle East, where Hamas and Hezbollah feel emboldened and Israel's prospects for secure peace seem uncertain, while U.S. diplomatic engagement has been sporadic; on preventing Iran, which has been strengthened by the war in Iraq, from acquiring nuclear weapons; and on Afghanistan, where more American forces and resources are needed to defeat a resurgent Taliban, finish the battle against al Qaeda, and stop that country from continuing to backslide toward instability.

From the July 24 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:

BUCHANAN: The one that made the principled point last night [at the debate for Democratic presidential candidates] was [Rep. Dennis] Kucinich [OH] --

CARLSON: Yes.

BUCHANAN: -- and it's her [anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan's] point as well. He said, "Look, all we have to do is don't vote him any more money for the war and tell him, 'We gave you $100 billion. Use that to bring them home.' "

CARLSON: Yeah.

BUCHANAN: That's exactly what both houses could do, because they've got 50 percent of both houses. Simply don't appropriate any more money for the war.

CARLSON: No kidding.

BUCHANAN: They could end the war -- end America's involvement in the war like that.

CARLSON: End it this afternoon. Now, I mean, I think that would be a disaster for this country.

BUCHANAN: Sure.

CARLSON: It would weaken us, and it would send all the wrong messages, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

BUCHANAN: Yeah.

CARLSON: But if you really believe that the war is lost and every day is only an opportunity for more Americans to die, why wouldn't you do that?

STODDARD: It is a huge problem for Democrats. There's a new poll out saying that the -- you know, the approval for Congress is down at 14 percent. They are seven months into this, you know, having power back after 12 years and all the promises and all the rage. And they haven't been able to change course in Iraq, and they haven't passed the other things. None of you will recall the "Six for '06" agenda from January, but --

BUCHANAN: They are a party that wants to be seen barking at the bus and chasing the bus, but they don't want to catch it. They do not want to impose their policy on the president and say, "The war is -- our involvement is over. You're going to start bringing them home," because then they are responsible for what happens after. And they know what's going to happen after.

CARLSON: But see, I feel like we're a tool --

STODDARD: But they also might lose power if they --

BUCHANAN: [inaudible] their way out -- is what's gonna happen.

CARLSON: Bush gave a speech today in South Carolina -- in Charleston, as it happens, the same location as the debate last night -- in which he made the case that Iraq is basically the front lines in our war now against Al Qaeda. It wasn't before, but now it is. I think that's a very hard argument for them to respond to. What are they going to say, "No. That's not true"? It is true.

STODDARD: I do -- I agree with you. And we have talked about this before. The Democrats have an Al Qaeda problem. They are not -- so far, they're just refusing to talk about every --

BUCHANAN: Boxer handled it just an hour ago, when she said, "Our proposal says that we keep troops in there to fight Al Qaeda and to train the Iraqis, and we get them out of the sectarian war. Fifteen percent of the attacks are Al Qaeda. We can fight that."

STODDARD: That was the most effective answer I've heard yet.

BUCHANAN: Yeah, that was her line.

STODDARD: A lot of times it's dodged.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism
Network/Outlet
MSNBC, The Hill
Person
A.B. Stoddard
Show/Publication
Tucker
Stories/Interests
Attacks on Progressives, Propaganda/Noise Machine
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