During a segment on the August 6 broadcast of NBC's Today, NBC senior foreign correspondent Andrea Mitchell uncritically aired Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's claim during an August 5 debate aired on ABC's This Week that Sen. Barack Obama "went from going to sit down to tea with our enemies, but then he's going to bomb our allies. I mean, he's gone from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove in one week." His reference to Dr. Strangelove was an attack on Obama apparently for saying during an August 1 speech that "[i]f we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets" in Pakistan, "and [Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf won't act, we will." In fact, in the course of the very same debate, Romney and Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani (NY) both acknowledged that they agree that a president should retain the option of attacking terrorists within the territory of an ally.
In the speech to which Romney was referring, Obama said:
I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will.
Notwithstanding Romney's claim, Obama did not say he would "bomb our allies."
Mitchell introduced the clip of Romney's attack by saying, "Romney led Republicans in going after Democrat Barack Obama for his recent foreign policy statements." Mitchell did not report what those statements were. Nor did she note that during the course of the debate, both Giuliani and Romney acknowledged their agreement with the substance of Obama's "foreign policy statement."
ABC's chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos, hosting the debate, noted that Giuliani had previously said that he would go after bin Laden if necessary over Musharraf's objections, when asked about Obama's speech on the August 1 edition of PBS' Charlie Rose. During the debate, responding to Giuliani's denial that he had said he would act, Stephanopoulos said: "No, you said 'If we had a chance to take bin Laden we've got to do it ourselves, because we're not sure if someone else is going to do it correctly. Yeah, I think I would take that option.'" Giuliani then acknowledged: "Well, I would take that option if I thought there was no other way to crush Al Qaeda, no other way to crush the Taliban and no other way to be able to capture bin Laden."
It's wrong for a person running for the president of the United States to get on TV and say "we're going to go into your country unilaterally." Of course America always maintains our options to do whatever we think is in the best interests of America. But we don't go out and say: "Ladies and gentlemen of Germany, if ever there was a problem in your country, and we didn't think you were doing the right thing, we reserve the right to come in and get them out." We don't say those things. We keep our options quiet.
Stephanopoulos summarized their positions as follows: "So what I'm hearing is -- that from both of you -- what I'm hearing is that you keep this option on the table, but it was foolish to talk about it in public," and asking, "Does anybody disagree with that?" Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) stated that he disagreed, but Romney and Giuliani did not. So not only did Romney agree with the substance of Obama's remarks, he attacked Obama for "go[ing] out and say[ing]" that he would take action against bin Laden, even as he -- Romney -- also announced that he would retain the option to act unilaterally if necessary: "Of course America always maintains our options to do whatever we think is in the best interests of America."
Mitchell noted none of this.
From the August 5 Republican presidential debate:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (moderator): Governor Romney, are you and Mayor Giuliani and Senator [John] McCain [R-AZ] all in the same place right now on Iraq?
ROMNEY: I think we're pretty much in the same place. It is critical for us to win this conflict. It is essential, and that's why we are going to continue to pursue this effort, and we're going to get a report from General [David] Petraeus on the success, and I agree that the Brookings Institution report over the weekend was a very encouraging indication that we're making progress. That's great news.
At the same time, you look at that Democratic debate -- I had to laugh at what I saw Barack Obama do. I mean, in one week, he went from saying he's going to sit down, you know, for tea with our enemies, but then he's going to bomb our allies. I mean, he's gone -- he's gone from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove in one week.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to get to that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Romney, you said you didn't agree with Obama's plan. You called it ill-timed and ill-considered. Mayor Giuliani, on Charlie Rose the other night, you said, "I would take that option." Why don't you guys take two minutes and debate this issue out.
GIULIANI: Well, I believe -- I believe that that is an option that should remain open. I think the senator didn't express it the right way. I think the senator, if he could say it over again, might want to say that we would encourage Musharraf to allow us to do it if we thought he couldn't accomplish it. But the reality is America should not take --
STEPHANOPOULOS: But if he said no, you'd go in.
GIULIANI: I didn't say we'd go in, I said I wouldn't take that option off the table.
STEPHANOPOULOS: No, well, you actually said, "I would take that option."
GIULIANI: I said I would keep that option open.
STEPHANOPOULOS: No, you said --
GIULIANI: In any event --
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- "If we had a chance to take bin Laden, we've got to do it ourselves, because we're not sure if someone else is going to do it correctly. Yeah, I think I would take that option."
GIULIANI: Well, I would take that option if I thought there was no other way to crush Al Qaeda, no other way to crush the Taliban, and no other way to be able to capture bin Laden. I think Pakistan has, unfortunately, not been making the efforts that they should be making. I think we should encourage them to do it. We should put the pressure on them to do it. And we should seek their permission if we ever had to take action there, as we were able to get their permission under Secretary or Deputy Secretary [Richard] Armitage was very effective in getting Musharraf's permission for us to act in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001 and 2002.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Romney?
ROMNEY: Yeah, I think Barack Obama is confused as to who are our friends and who are our enemies. In his first year, he wants to meet with [Cuban President Fidel] Castro and [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez and [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. Those are our enemies. Those are the world's worst tyrants. And then he says he wants to unilaterally go in and potentially bomb a nation which is our friend. We're trying to strengthen Musharraf. We're trying to strengthen the foundations of democracy and freedom in that country, so that they will be able to reject the extremists. We're working with them -- we're working them on a --
STEPHANOPOULOS: But if your CIA director called you and said, "We have Osama bin Laden in our sights, Musharraf says no," what do you do?
ROMNEY: It's wrong for a person running for the president of the United States to get on TV and say "we're going to go into your country unilaterally." Of course America always maintains our options to do whatever we think is in the best interests of America. But we don't go out and say: "Ladies and gentlemen of Germany, if ever there was a problem in your country, and we didn't think you were doing the right thing, we reserve the right to come in and get 'em out." We don't say those things. We keep our options quiet. We do not go out and say to a nation which is working with us, where we've collaborated and they are our friend and we're trying to support Musharraf and strengthen him and his nation, that instead that we intend to go in there and potentially bring out a unilateral attack.
Recognize, to win the war on jihad, we have to not only have a strong military of our own, and we need a stronger military, we also need to have strong friends around the world and help moderate Muslims reject the extreme, because ultimately, the only people who can finally defeat these radical Islam jihadists are the Muslims themselves.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So what I'm hearing is that from both of you -- what I'm hearing is that you keep this option on the table, but it was foolish to talk about it in public. Does anybody disagree with that?
HUNTER: Yeah, I disagree with it. I disagree --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Who did -- what do --
HUNTER: Yeah. George, let me tell you. Barack Obama didn't understand there are now 100,000 Pakistani troops who have been moved to the border. They've moved two divisions to the border; in fact, one of them out of the high country on the Indian border. You right now have operations that are being taken in cooperation with American forces in Afghanistan.
From the August 6 broadcast of NBC's Today:
MITCHELL: And Romney led the Republicans in going after Democrat Barack Obama for his recent foreign policy statements.
ROMNEY: [video clip] He went from saying he's going to sit down, you know, for tea with our enemies, but then he's going to bomb our allies. I mean, he's gone -- he's gone from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove in one week.
MITCHELL: There was also some humor when Rudolph Giuliani, twice divorced, was asked his defining mistake.
From the August 1 broadcast of PBS' Charlie Rose:
ROSE: Fair enough. All right. Barack Obama made a very interesting thing today in pursuit of Osama bin Laden. He said the following -- if in fact -- he's in favor of withdrawing all the troops from Iraq, as you know -- if in fact there was in Pakistan a realistic evidence of Osama bin Laden, a hot target, and Musharraf was not prepared to go after him, he, as president, would be prepared to go into Pakistan to get him, regardless of what Musharraf did.
Would do you that? That's a tough stand against terrorism, which you have defined as the number one issue facing the new president?
GIULIANI: As I have said many, many times, we should redouble and triple our efforts to crush the Taliban and Al Qaeda. I say that --
ROSE: Even if it means going into Pakistan, which is an ally, despite the objections of Musharraf?
GIULIANI: I certainly would not take that option off the table. You would have to judge that given the circumstances that were presented to you. Hey, these things are all big calls on, is the intelligence correct? Can you actually get him? Are you going to be successful? Will America look foolish because it will make a mistake? There are so many questions that have to be resolved.
But if what you're asking me is, would that be an option that's on the table, which is we have a chance to catch bin Laden and we have got to do it ourselves because we're not sure if somebody is going to do it correctly -- yeah, I think I would take that option.