CNN's Henry did not tell viewers that Bush "listening mode" doesn't include asking questions or openness to suggestions


CNN's Ed Henry's description of President Bush being "in listening mode right now" regarding his strategy for the Iraq war ignored that Bush's "listening mode" apparently does not include asking questions of the Iraq Study Group or receptivity to some of the ISG's key recommendations.

On the December 8 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry reported that, following the release of the Iraq Study Group's (ISG) final report, President Bush "won't be pinned down on details" regarding his strategy for the Iraq war, and that "[h]e's in listening mode right now." While "listening mode" might accurately describe how the White House is characterizing Bush's approach, Henry did not inform viewers that it apparently does not include asking questions of the 10 members of the ISG, as reportedly occurred when he met with them on December 6. Nor, apparently, does it include receptivity to some of the ISG's key recommendations.

From the December 8 edition of The Situation Room:

HENRY: Now, the White House explanation is the president doesn't want to be pinned down on details. He's in listening mode right now. He doesn't want to prejudge those separate reviews of Iraq policy being conducted by his administration, the State Department, the Defense Department, the National Security Council. So, next week, he's going to continue some listening sessions.

Monday, he'll be at the State Department. Tuesday, a secure videoconference with military commanders in the field. Wednesday, he'll be at the Pentagon. Then there'll be some sort of a big speech. Aides say it could be before Christmas, where he'll announce changes to Iraq policy.

But the bottom line is -- and the big question is -- how big of a change will it really be?

Washington Post political reporter Dana Milbank, in his December 7 "Washington Sketch" column, noted that Lawrence Eagleburger, an ISG member and secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush, said that he could not recall Bush asking any questions of the ISG when they met after the report was released on December 6:

Whatever else the "has-beens" accomplished, they made sure that any credibility questions will be directed not at them but at Bush. [ISG co-chairman and former Rep. Lee] Hamilton lectured: "You cannot look at this area of the world and pick and choose among the countries that you're going to deal with." [Clinton White House chief of staff] Leon Panetta counseled Bush to "look at the realities of what's taking place." Eagleburger said after the event that when the group met with Bush, "I don't recall, seriously, that he asked any questions." Even the loyal [ISG co-chairman and former George H.W. Bush Secretary of State James] Baker had to advise his friend's son that "it is time to find a new way forward."

One of the ISG report's key recommendations was that the United States and its allies should form an Iraq "Support Group," and that the group "should actively engage Iran and Syria in its diplomatic dialogue, without preconditions." On December 7, during a press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush rejected that course of action:

BUSH: We have made it clear to the Iranians that there is a possible change in U.S. policy, a policy that's been in place for 27 years, and that is that if they would like to engage the United States, that they've got to verifiably suspend their enrichment program. We've made our choice. Iran now has an opportunity to make its choice. I would hope they would make the choice that most of the free world wants them to make, which is there is no need to have a weapons program; there is no need to isolate your people; there's no need to continue this obstinance when it comes to your stated desires to have a nuclear weapon. It's not in your interest to do so.

And should they agree to verifiably suspend their enrichment, the United States will be at the table with our partners.

It's really interesting to talk about conversations with countries -- which is fine; I can understand why people speculate about it -- but there should be no mistake in anybody's mind, these countries understand our position. They know what's expected of them.

There is -- if we were to have a conversation, it would be this one, to Syria: Stop destabilizing the [Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora government. We believe that the Siniora government should be supported, not weakened. Stop allowing money and arms to cross your border into Iraq. Don't provide safe haven for terrorist groups. We've made that position very clear.

And the truth of the matter is, is that these countries have now got the choice to make. If they want to sit down at the table with the United States, it's easy -- just make some decisions that will lead to peace, not to conflict.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy
Ed Henry
The Situation Room
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.