MSNBC's David Gregory did not challenge Republican strategist Mike Murphy's false claim that "Barack Obama's talked about paratroopers in Islamabad, for heaven's sake." In fact, Obama has stated that "[i]f we have actionable intelligence about high-level Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan's border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot." A Media Matters review found no examples of Obama calling for dropping "paratroopers in Islamabad" or anywhere else in Pakistan.
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During the March 19 edition of MSNBC's Race for the White House, Republican strategist Mike Murphy falsely claimed, "Barack Obama's talked about paratroopers in Islamabad, for heaven's sake," a claim left unchallenged by host David Gregory. In a March 19 speech on Iraq and national security, Obama reiterated a statement that he made in his August 1, 2007, speech on the subject: "If we have actionable intelligence about high-level Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan's border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot." He later added, "Indeed, it was months after I called for this policy that a top Al Qaeda leader was taken out in Pakistan by an American aircraft." However, in neither speech did Obama discuss dropping "paratroopers in Islamabad," as Murphy stated. Moreover, a Media Matters for America review of the Nexis database for the past five years yielded no examples of Obama calling for the use of paratroopers either in Islamabad or Pakistan in general.*
In discussing Pakistan during his speech, Obama went on to assert that his position on the country has been "distorted and derided ... suggesting that I would quote invade or bomb Pakistan." Indeed, Media Matters has repeatedly documented instances in which media figures misrepresented what Obama has said about taking action against Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan in order to claim that he would "bomb" or "invade" the country.
OBAMA: To succeed in Afghanistan, we also need to fundamentally rethink our Pakistan policy. For years, we have supported stability over democracy in Pakistan, and gotten neither. The core leadership of Al Qaeda has a safe haven in Pakistan. The Taliban are able to strike inside Afghanistan and then return to the mountains of the Pakistani border. Throughout Pakistan, domestic unrest has been rising. The full democratic aspirations of the Pakistani people have been too long denied. A child growing up in Pakistan, more often than not, is taught to see America as a source of hate and not hope.
This is why I stood up last summer and said we cannot base our entire Pakistan policy on President Musharraf. Pakistan is our ally, but we do our own security and our ally no favors by supporting its president while we are seen to be ignoring the interests of the people who live there. Our counter-terrorism assistance must be conditioned on Pakistani action to root out the Al Qaeda sanctuary. And any U.S. aid not directly needed for the fight against Al Qaeda or to invest in the Pakistani people should be conditioned on the full restoration of Pakistan's democracy and rule of law.
The choice is not between Musharraf and Islamic extremists. As the recent legislative elections showed, there is a moderate majority of Pakistanis, and they are the people we need on our side to win the war against Al Qaeda. That is why we should dramatically increase our support for the Pakistani people -- for education, economic development, and democratic institutions. That child in Pakistan must know that we want a better life for him, that America is on his side, and that his interest in opportunity is our interest as well. That's the promise that America must stand for.
And for his sake and ours, we cannot tolerate a sanctuary for terrorists who threaten America's homeland and Pakistan's stability. If we have actionable intelligence about high-level Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan's border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot. Senator Clinton, Senator McCain, and President Bush have all distorted and derided this position, suggesting that I would, quote, invade or bomb Pakistan. This is politics, pure and simple. My position, in fact, is the same pragmatic policy that all three of them have belatedly -- if quietly -- acknowledged is one we should pursue. Indeed, it was months after I called for this policy that a top Al Qaeda leader was taken out in Pakistan by an American aircraft. And remember that the same three individuals who now criticize me for supporting a targeted strike on the terrorists who carried out the 9-11 attacks are the same three individuals that supported an invasion of Iraq -- a country that had nothing to do with 9-11.
It is precisely this kind of political point-scoring that's opened up the security gap in this country. We have a security gap when candidates say they will follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, but refuse to follow him where he actually is. What we need in our next Commander in Chief is not a stubborn refusal to acknowledge reality or empty rhetoric about 3 a.m. phone calls. What we need is a pragmatic strategy that focuses on fighting our real enemies, rebuilding alliances, and renewing our engagement with the world's people.
From the March 19 edition of MSNBC's Race for the White House with David Gregory:
JOE SCARBOROUGH (MSNBC host): I'm not trying to be hilarious, I'm just saying that this sort of gotcha, jeopardy politics may work with us and we may roll our eyes, but I've got a feeling that the people that decide who get elected don't care about this any more than they care about --
GREGORY: Hold on.
SCARBOROUGH: -- intelligence committee made the same mistake.
GREGORY: Hold on. Mike Murphy, go ahead. Mike Murphy, go ahead.
MURPHY: Yeah. John McCain is praying, is praying every day that this election comes down to expertise on foreign policy. Barack Obama's talked about paratroopers into Islamabad, for heaven's sake. So this is the gaffe; it's a speed bump. He corrected himself. Everybody knows McCain's strong suit --
GREGORY: All right.
MURPHY: -- is this foreign policy stuff. The question is the economy and --
GREGORY: I got one more item --
RACHEL MADDOW (MSNBC analyst): And he showed a huge weakness on his strong suit --
GREGORY: Hold on, I got one more item to get into the "The War Room." Today's last look behind the campaign curtain: Indiana is the new New Hampshire?
* A search of the Nexis database for the past five years using the terms "Obama" and "paratrooper!" and "Islamabad" or "Pakistan" found no examples of Obama advocating or discussing the use of paratroopers in Pakistan.