Fox Pushes False Claim That Gates "Contradicted" Obama On Libya


Fox News has seized on recent comments Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made about U.S. military involvement in Libya to claim that Gates "contradicted" President Obama's statements about the military action in Libya. In fact, Obama has not contradicted Gates' statement that Libya is "not a vital interest" for the U.S., and both agree that the U.S. has an interest in acting there.

Fox Claims Gates "Contradicted" Obama On Libya

Kilmeade: Obama Is "Contradicting His Secretary Of Defense." On the March 28 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, the co-hosts spent several segments discussing both Obama and Gates' comments on military action in Libya. The co-hosts talked about Obama's upcoming address on Libya, as well as his March 26 radio address, and played a clip from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' March 27 interview on NBC's Meet the Press. From the broadcast:

GRETCHEN CARLSON (co-host): Here was the question asked to Secretary Gates. How long will we be there? He says, "I don't think anybody knows the answer to that." Huh? I mean, can the president --

STEVE DOOCY (co-host): I think that's right.

CARLSON: Okay, but can the president answer that tonight? That's why I'm saying I don't think there's going to be much clarification.

BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): He's going to deemphasize our role and talk about how we're handing things over and, in a way, just say it's not our fight. Secretary of Defense Gates yesterday on the need for us to fight in Libya. Let's listen.

[begin video clip]

GATES: No, I don't think it's a vital interest for the United States, but we clearly have interest there, and it's a part of the region which is a vital interest for the United States.

[end video clip]

CARLSON: Alright, so if it's not a vital interest, what the heck are we doing there? Let us know what you think about that, if it's not vital interest. Secretary Clinton went on to say further that she then clarified and said it's a vital interest of our allies in Europe. Okay, so maybe that's a better way to explain it.

DOOCY: And, in fact, the day before, the President of the United States in his weekly radio address and media address said it was in the country's vital national interest.

KILMEADE: Contradicting his Secretary of Defense.

CARLSON: Absolutely. And so you've got Gates saying that and then immediately Hillary Clinton stepped in. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/28/11]

Perino: It's A Problem That Gates Isn't "On The Same Page As President Obama." Later during the show, the co-hosts invited Fox News contributor Dana Perino on the air to discuss Gates' and Obama's comments. From the broadcast:

DOOCY: Sure. And if you look over the last, I don't know, 72 hours or so, there's been a messaging problem on behalf of the White House. In his weekly media address, the president said that acting there was in the national interest, and then the Defense Secretary Gates was on one of the chat shows yesterday and he completely contradicted that, listen to this.


DOOCY: So the president says it is, and he says it isn't. Oops!

PERINO: Yeah, last week when they announced that Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton would be appearing together on a couple of the Sunday shows, I thought that was very smart because it would ensure the two of them are on the same page. I didn't think their problem was going to be that one wouldn't be on the same page as President Obama. And so I think -- I know where Secretary Gates was coming from, because I know him a little bit better than I know President Obama, having worked with him. I think the problem is, does Secretary Gates and President Obama understand where they're both going on this? They probably do. It's just one those little bit of a mess-ups, but it seems very stark when you play the radio address and then Gates' comments, and then Secretary Clinton following that did try to, you know, put it back in the box. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/28/11]

Fox Nation: Gates Said Libyan Conflict "Not A Vital National Interest," But Obama Said It's "In Our National Interest To Act." From a Fox Nation post:

Lawmakers on Sunday urged President Obama to use his upcoming address to the nation to make crystal clear that Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi must go, as the administration continued to give conflicting signals about the rationale behind the U.S. military intervention.


"It's no wonder that Americans are confused," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on "Fox News Sunday," noting that the president describes the intervention as a humanitarian mission while saying, separate from the military campaign, that Qaddafi should go. "The president, I hope, would clarify that in his speech on Monday night."

Adding to the confusion, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in an interview Sunday that the Libyan conflict was "not a vital national interest," even though it demanded U.S. involvement. Obama, though, said in his Saturday radio address that "it's in our national interest to act." [Fox Nation, 3/28/11]

But Gates And Obama Agree: Libya Is "An Interest" Of Importance To The U.S.

Obama: U.S. Cannot "Intervene Every Time There's A Crisis Somewhere In The World" But Brutality And Threat Of Regional Instability Mean "It's In Our National Interest To Act." Contrary to Doocy's claim that Obama said acting in Libya was in "the country's vital national interest," Obama, during his weekly radio address on March 26, said:

As Commander in Chief, I face no greater decision than sending our military men and women into harm's way. And the United States should not--and cannot--intervene every time there's a crisis somewhere in the world.

But I firmly believe that when innocent people are being brutalized; when someone like Qaddafi threatens a bloodbath that could destabilize an entire region; and when the international community is prepared to come together to save many thousands of lives--then it's in our national interest to act. And it's our responsibility. This is one of those times.

Our military mission in Libya is clear and focused. Along with our allies and partners, we're enforcing the mandate of the United Nations Security Council. We're protecting the Libyan people from Qaddafi's forces. And we've put in place a no fly zone and other measures to prevent further atrocities. [The White House, 3/26/11, emphasis added]

Gates: "I Don't Think [Libya Is] A Vital Interest...But We Clearly Have Interests There, And It's Part Of A Region Which Is A Vital Interest" For The U.S. From the March 27 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press:

MR.GREGORY: Secretary Gates, is Libya in our vital interest as a country?

SEC'Y GATES: No. I don't think it's a vital interest for the United States, but we clearly have interests there, and it's a part of the region which is a vital interest for the United States.

MR. GREGORY: I think a lot of people would hear that and way [sic], well, that's quite striking. Not in our vital interest, and yet we're committing military resources to it.

SEC'Y CLINTON: Well, but, but, but then it wouldn't be fair as to what Bob just said. I mean, did Libya attack us? No. They did not attack us. Do they have a very critical role in this region and do they neighbor two countries--you just mentioned one, Egypt, the other Tunisia--that are going through these extraordinary transformations and cannot afford to be destabilized by conflict on their borders? Yes. Do they have a major influence on what goes on in Europe because of everything from oil to immigration? [MSNBC, 3/27/11]

Gates: Libya "Is Not A Vital National Interest Of The United States. But It Is An Interest." From an interview conducted with Secretary Gates for the Wall Street Journal:

A larger consideration for Mr. Gates is how the crisis in Libya fits into American interests. "There are American national security interests and American vital interests where, in my view, we need to act decisively and if necessary act unilaterally," he says. "This is not one of them."

Then again, neither does Mr. Gates think that the crisis in Libya amounts to little more than a strictly humanitarian tragedy, on a par with, say, last year's earthquake in Haiti. "It is a concern of ours if more than a million Egyptians in Libya decide they have to immigrate home. It is a concern if civil war contributes to destabilization in either Tunisia or Egypt." Libya, he concludes, "is not a vital national interest of the United States. But it is an interest." [The Wall Street Journal, 3/27/11]

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National Security & Foreign Policy, International Conflicts
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