Schieffer allowed Snow's dubious Iraq statements to go unquestioned


On CBS' Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer did not challenge White House press secretary Tony Snow's claims about the state of the war in Iraq, including Snow's assertion that Iraqi leaders want U.S. troops to remain in their country.

Interviewing White House press secretary Tony Snow on the June 18 edition of CBS' Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer failed to challenge several dubious statements Snow made about the war in Iraq. Snow asserted that "[t]o a person, Iraqi leaders" have told the Bush administration not to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. This statement is directly contradicted by a June 15 Associated Press report that Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi had asked President Bush "for a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq." Iraqi President Jalal Talabani supported Hashimi's request. Further, even when Snow discussed the "state of things in Iraq," Schieffer failed to ask Snow about a June 12 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, published that morning in The Washington Post, which described a bleak situation in Baghdad and the impact that situation has had on Iraqis working for the embassy. Finally, in response to Snow's assertion that Americans have soured on the war because it presents particular difficulties and is "unlike any other," Schieffer failed to point out the administration's multiple claims that the Iraq war would be short or had reached a "turning point."

Discussing the importance of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's new government, Snow recounted how, during Bush's recent trip to Iraq, Iraqis asked Bush to ensure that U.S. forces remain in Iraq: "[T]his is something that was very impressive. To a person, Iraqi leaders, Shia, Sunni, Kurd, said, 'Don't leave. We need you here.' " But Schieffer failed to mention Hashimi's request for a timeline for withdrawal.

Nor did Schieffer question Snow's claim that Maliki is "taking on challenges like security, like economy, like a national reconciliation," even though, earlier that morning, the Post had printed the June 12 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, which portrayed conditions in Baghdad as increasingly bleak. In the Post's words, the cable, addressed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "outlines in spare prose the daily-worsening conditions for those who live outside the heavily guarded international zone: harassment, threats and the employees' constant fears that their neighbors will discover they work for the U.S. government." In particular, the cable stated that Iraqi embassy staff members' "personal fears are reinforcing divisive sectarian or ethnic channels, despite talk of reconciliation by officials," and that "[p]ersonal safety depends on good relations with the 'neighborhood' governments, who barricade streets and ward off outsiders. The central government, our staff says, is not relevant." As Media Matters for America has noted, the cable also was not mentioned on NBC's Meet the Press or Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, despite extensive coverage of Iraq on both programs.

Further, Snow asserted that Americans' opinion had soured on the conflict because this is a war "unlike any other," in which "we are dealing not with a national force where you can count your victories in terms of winning on a battlefield. There's no Battle of the Bulge. There's no marching into Berlin. Instead, what you have is an amorphous enemy." In reponse, Schieffer failed to point out the Bush administration's short and concrete predictions in the run-up to the war, which may be contributing to the public's current disapproval and skepticism. As Media Matters has noted, senior Bush administration officials and advisers predicted a quick victory on numerous occasions prior to the invasion of Iraq, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's February 7, 2003, statement that the Iraq war "could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months." After the invasion of Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney prematurely predicted the downfall of the insurgency, telling CNN's Larry King on May 30, 2005, that "the level of activity [in Iraq] that we see today, from a military standpoint, I think will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." Media Matters has also documented numerous instances in which the administration has proclaimed that developments in Iraq have constituted a "turning point."

From the June 18 broadcast of CBS' Face the Nation:

SCHIEFFER: Let's talk about Iraq a little bit. Are we at a turning point?

You are just back from there. You went with the president. I think we actually have a picture of you on the helicopter with the president.

SNOW: You've got that hell of a picture?

SCHIEFFER: And that would be Dan Bartlett, the White House communications chief, who looks like he may be chewing tobacco in that picture.

SNOW: Well, actually, we were on a separate helicopter. But there we are with our vests. And as you can see, one of the reasons I'm looking at him like that is that I couldn't turn my head any further. I would be wary of trying to characterize. I'll tell you what the most important thing about what's going on in Iraq is that you've got an elected government with a prime minister who seems to be, not only, seems to be a very practical guy.

And he's taking on challenges like security, like economy, like a national reconciliation. And when the president went there, they had a really good set of briefings where we got a very realistic take on the state of things in Iraq. I don't think you can ever count on something as being a pivot point.

But what we do now have is a government with which we can deal. The president is impressed by Prime Minister Maliki and his not only can-do attitude, but the leadership ability to set priorities and to try to set up plans for meeting them. We've got Operation Forward Together, which started the day after we left, where 50,000 Iraqi police and military forces are going into certain precincts of Baghdad. There are about five really bad neighborhoods, and they're going after them. They've got 7,200 coalition forces joining them.

That is the kind of operation that I think you're likely to see more of in weeks and months to come. But this president's also said it's a funny war because somebody, by a single act of violence or, if in fact American service -- or simply the fact that two American servicemen are missing, that becomes the big story, rather than the fact that you've got almost 60,000 forces on the ground going after bad guys. We've apprehended hundreds of bad guys since [terrorist leader Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi died.

SCHIEFFER: Well, let me just ask you this because it brings me to a point that I wanted to bring up. And that is, I mean, you obviously have been brought aboard to try to help the president communicate in a more effective way with the American people. Polls continue to show that they think the war is not going well, that they do not approve of the way the war is being conducted. Do you think that is a result, Tony, of the policy or of the way the president's position has been presented?

SNOW: No, I think it's a natural reaction to a war. We've had troops in Iraq -- the war began in March of 2003, and it's -- it's reasonable -- not reasonable, but it's natural for people to think, "Why can't it all be over?" This is a war unlike any other, because we are dealing not with a national force where you can count your victories in terms of winning on a battlefield. There's no Battle of the Bulge. There's no marching into Berlin.

Instead, what you have is an amorphous enemy. And frankly, one of the things we talked about in Iraq is a changing nature of the insurgency as well in Iraq. But, you know, if you turn the question at a different angle, Bob, you ask the American people, "Do you want to win?" The answer is yes. And I think now that we have with Prime Minister Maliki and the cabinet, there is -- I think people need to take stock of this new Iraqi government, because they do want to take charge. They do want to go ahead and secure victory.

But they also -- and this is something that was very impressive. To a person, Iraqi leaders, Shia, Sunni, Kurd, said, "Don't leave. We need you here." And not merely because they wanted the support but because there are a number of people who are undecided in Iraq right now -- which way are they going to go? You know, you have a situation like that, they're going to say, "Do I go with the insurgents or do I go with the government?"

If the United States is there, and they know that we're going to be there until the job is done, it makes it a lot easier for them to decide to help the government.

SCHIEFFER: Let me just ask you about a quote that [White House senior adviser] Karl Rove put out because he clearly is trying to make this a part of the coming campaign.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Bob Schieffer
Face the Nation
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