On MSNBC, Jeffrey flip-flopped on the prewar Iraq debate


Responding to a question from host Chris Matthews on the March 27 edition of MSNBC's Hardball about polls showing that the American public favors withdrawal from Iraq, Human Events editor Terence P. Jeffrey said that "we are not looking carefully enough at the consequences" of withdrawal and likened the situation to that existing when Congress was voting on the Iraq war resolution: "People didn't carefully think through what the consequences might be of an invasion of Iraq." He later added, "[W]e also didn't have ... a careful enough debate in Congress about the potential consequences." But these comments differ sharply from Jeffrey's assessment in 2003 of the extent to which policymakers considered the consequences of invading Iraq. When Jeffrey appeared on Hardball on March 18, 2003 -- one day before the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq -- he claimed that "people have a very realistic and well-informed opinion about our policy towards Iraq."

From the March 18, 2003, edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you both about this big question -- so much of the last months of debate has been over the connection between September 11 and the horror that happened in New York and here in Washington at the Pentagon, not far from here, and what we're doing in Iraq. The president manfully made the effort last time around in his press conference to make that connection so relentlessly. He didn't so again last night, but here's some interesting numbers. This is an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

In reducing the threat of terrorism worldwide, a realistic expectation of going to war, is that a realistic expectation of going to war in Iraq? In other words, will fighting Saddam Hussein and bringing him down reduce the amount of worldwide terrorism? No, 50 percent; yes, 42. So a modest majority, the most modest you could have, Terry, says that the people don't really see a connection. How do you read that? The president has tried to make this connection.

JEFFREY: Well first of all, I don't think he has. But secondly, I think people have a very realistic and well-informed opinion about our policy towards Iraq. I think the president has made his decision honestly and I think that's why he's been persuasive, Chris. People recognize the sincerity in the case he's making and it's based on two things. First, we cannot let Saddam Hussein for 12 consecutive years deny and defy the world community, including the agreements he himself made to disarm, that's number one. Number two, the president has over and over made the case that we cannot risk Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction. Those are the two arguments for the war.

During that same 2003 Hardball appearance, Jeffrey attacked Democratic lawmakers who questioned the Bush administration's drive to war, describing then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's (D-SD) criticism of Bush's failed diplomatic efforts as "shameless political opportunism," and asking, "Can't this guy drop politics for 72 hours?":

MATTHEWS: Why do you think the Democrats, Terry, continue to shoot their cap guns at the president? I'm talking about [then-House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi [D-CA]. I'm talking about Tom Daschle.

JEFFREY: Well, I think it's shameless political opportunism.

MATTHEWS: What do they gain? What opportunity is there to show that you're not respecting the commander-in-chief and still not offering an alternative?

JEFFREY: Well, first of all, I think they lack core values, all right, because Daschle, for example, last October voted to authorize the president to use military force to do this. Now, he's using absolutely ridiculous demagogic rhetoric to attack the president.


MATTHEWS: Is he opposing the war or supporting it?

JEFFREY: You want to look at cold-blooded, dirty politics? If President Bush is successful in his policy against Iraq and the economy comes back, which is unlikely, he's unbeatable in 2004, but Tom Daschle can never let politics go. We're on the verge of congressionally authorized war -- 280,000 troops are about to put their lives on the line. Can't this guy drop politics for 72 hours? When he is going to do it, if not now?

From the March 27 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, which also featured Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen:

MATTHEWS: Not that this solves the debate between you two, but look at this: The new USA Today/Gallup poll that came out in today's paper, the USA Today, said that 60 percent, three out of five of the American people, do support a timetable for withdrawal. Does that bother you? Does that suggest truth, or is that just popularity?

JEFFREY: Well I think -- I think --

MATTHEWS: I mean, the fact that the American people -- it is not overwhelming. That is not an overwhelming number in a war. But three out of five say, "Let's get out of there."

JEFFREY: Right. Well, look, there's no doubt, Chris, that the war is unpopular. People really don't see where the national interest is at stake now in what's going on in Iraq. But in a lot of ways, we're in a situation analogous to the vote originally before we went into war in Iraq. People didn't carefully think through what the consequences might be --

MATTHEWS: You're not kidding.

JEFFREY: -- of an invasion of Iraq. And --

MATTHEWS: Do you know that people opposed that war?

ROSEN: -- that -- that can't be possibly true.

MATTHEWS: If you asked the American people, in that fall before we went to war, if there are going to be significant casualties --

ROSEN: That's right.

MATTHEWS: -- do you still support the war, and they said no. We told them there wouldn't be casualties.

JEFFREY: We also -- we also didn't have a -- a careful enough debate in Congress about the potential consequences.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. You and I are --

JEFFREY: But now --

ROSEN: It -- it might be true, but the Republicans were in charge of that debate.

JEFFREY: But now we are not looking carefully enough at the consequences if we go out.

Terence P. Jeffrey
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.