Bill Sammon reported contrast in Obama, Bush positions on Pakistan, but not Bush flip-flops

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

On Special Report, The Washington Examiner's Bill Sammon asserted that, in contrast with Sen. Barack Obama's recent statement, President Bush said at a press conference, "[W]e'll go after terrorists in Pakistan, but we'll work with Musharraf to do that," as Sammon put it. In fact, Bush refused to give a direct answer about whether he would pursue terrorists in Pakistan without Musharraf's consent, and he has given conflicting statements on this issue in the past.

On the August 6 edition of Fox News' Special Report, referring to Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) recent statement that as president, he would take action against "high-value terrorist targets" in Pakistan if President Pervez Musharraf "won't act," Bill Sammon, Washington Examiner senior White House correspondent and Fox News contributor, asserted that President Bush put "some distance between himself and Barack Obama" on this issue, claiming that, during his August 6 press conference, Bush said, "[W]e'll go after terrorists in Pakistan, but we'll work with Musharraf to do that," as Sammon put it. In fact, during the press conference, Bush refused to give a direct answer to a question on the issue of whether he would pursue terrorists in Pakistan without Musharraf's consent, and he has given conflicting statements on this issue in the past.

Special Report guest host Bret Baier aired a video clip of Bush from the press conference, in which Bush said: "I'm confident that with actionable intelligence, we will be able to bring top Al Qaeda to justice. We're in constant communications with the Pakistan government. It's in their interest that foreign fighters be brought to justice. After all, these are the same ones who were plotting to kill President Musharraf. We share a concern. And I'm confident, with real actionable intelligence, we will get the job done." Baier then asked Sammon, "[H]ow does that sound bite from the president play versus what Barack Obama said last week?" During an August 1 foreign policy speech, Obama said, "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets [in Pakistan] and President Musharraf won't act, we will." Sammon replied: "I think that was the president putting some distance between himself and Barack Obama, saying, 'Look, we'll go after terrorists in Pakistan, but we'll work with Musharraf to do that.' "

But the statement Baier aired came in response to a question about whether Bush would "wait for Musharraf's permission to send in U.S. forces" if there was "actionable intelligence about the whereabouts of top Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, even if it meant missing an opportunity to take them out." Bush did not address the part of the question about "wait[ing] for Musharraf's permission":

Q.: Mr. President, if you had actionable intelligence about the whereabouts of top Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, would you wait for Musharraf's permission to send in U.S. forces, even if it meant missing an opportunity to take them out? Or have you and Musharraf worked out some deal about this already?

And President Karzai, what will be your top concern when you meet with Musharraf later this week?

BUSH: I'm confident that with actionable intelligence, we will be able to bring top Al Qaeda to justice. We're in constant communications with the Pakistan government. It's in their interest that foreign fighters be brought to justice. After all, these are the same ones who were plotting to kill President Musharraf. We share a concern. And I'm confident, with real actionable intelligence, we will get the job done.

Further, as Media Matters for America has documented, in September 2006, Bush gave conflicting statements on the subject of whether he would go after terrorists in Pakistan without Musharraf's consent. During a September 20, 2006, interview with CNN host Wolf Blitzer, when Blitzer asked whether he would "give the order to kill them [Osama bin Laden and others] or capture them" in Pakistan, Bush replied, "Absolutely." When Blitzer pressed, asking if Bush would give the order "[e]ven though the Pakistanis say that's their sovereign territory," Bush again responded, "Absolutely," adding: "We would take the action necessary to bring them to justice." From the interview:

BLITZER: If you had good, actionable intelligence in Pakistan -- where they [bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and/or Mullah Muhammad Omar] were -- would you give the order to kill him or capture him --

BUSH: Absolutely.

BLITZER: -- and go into Pakistan?

BUSH: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Even though the Pakistanis say that's their sovereign territory?

BUSH: Absolutely. We would take the action necessary to bring them to justice.

However, during a September 15, 2006, press conference, when asked why he thinks "it's a bad idea to send more resources to hunt down bin Laden wherever he is," Bush said: "Because, first of all, Pakistan is a sovereign nation. ... In order for us to send thousands of troops into a sovereign nation, we've got to be invited by the government of Pakistan." Additionally, during an August 1 press briefing, White House press secretary Tony Snow addressed Obama's pledge to take action against "high-value terrorist targets" in Pakistan, echoing Bush on September 15, 2006, rather than Bush on September 20, 2006. As the Chicago Tribune noted, Snow said: "[O]ur approach to Pakistan is one that not only respects the sovereignty of Pakistan as a sovereign government, but is also designed to work in a way where we are working in cooperation with the local government."

In addition, contrary to Sammon's suggestion that Obama indicated he would not attempt to "work with Musharraf" to go after terrorists in Pakistan, Obama did pledge cooperation with Pakistan. From Obama's August 1 speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars:

OBAMA: And Pakistan needs more than F-16s to combat extremism. As the Pakistani government increases investment in secular education to counter radical madrasas, my Administration will increase America's commitment. We must help Pakistan invest in the provinces along the Afghan border, so that the extremists' program of hate is met with one of hope. And we must not turn a blind eye to elections that are neither free nor fair -- our goal is not simply an ally in Pakistan, it is a democratic ally.

From the August 6 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

BUSH: I'm confident that with actionable intelligence, we will be able to bring top Al Qaeda to justice. We're in constant communications with the Pakistan government. It's in their interest that foreign fighters be brought to justice. After all, these are the same ones who were plotting to kill President Musharraf. We share a concern. And I'm confident, with real actionable intelligence, we will get the job done.

BAIER: That was President Bush today at Camp David answering a question -- whether he would send U.S. troops into Pakistan to go after Al Qaeda leaders. This, of course, comes after last week's speech by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, in which he said: "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."

We're back with our panel. Bill, how is this playing, and how does that sound bite from the president play versus what Barack Obama said last week?

SAMMON: I think that was the president putting some distance between himself and Barack Obama, saying, "Look, we'll go after terrorists in Pakistan, but we'll work with Musharraf to do that."

Barack Obama was suggesting that, unilaterally, the U.S. would somehow go in there and attack terrorists in Pakistan, which is not a great idea, considering that Pakistan is our ally and that could, you know, destabilize the country and result in the ouster of Musharraf, which would make things worse.

So, Bush was very gingerly putting some distance between himself and Obama because the Pakistani government and our State Department were not pleased with Obama's comments.

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