This Week , Face the Nation , and Late Edition hosts let Rumsfeld peddle Iraq misinformation

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

During Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld's appearances on the November 20 broadcasts of ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, the hosts of these programs failed to challenge false or misleading statements Rumsfeld made on the current state of the Iraq coalition, responsibility for Iraq troop levels, and prewar intelligence.

On Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer did not challenge Rumsfeld's apparently false claim that "[t]he number of countries participating in the [Iraq] coalition has gone up." On This Week, host George Stephanopoulos asked Rumsfeld about initial troop levels for the invasion, which critics such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell have said were insufficient to secure the country after the fall of Baghdad. When Rumsfeld responded that he had simply ratified military commanders' war-planning decisions, Stephanopoulos did not challenge him, even though substantial evidence exists that Rumsfeld pressured commanders to keep initial troop levels low. Finally, Rumsfeld made two false claims about prewar intelligence that the shows' hosts let pass. First, on This Week, Rumsfeld repeated the debunked claim that "the legislative branch" saw the same intelligence on Iraq as "the executive branch," but Stephanopoulos did not question this assertion. Second, on Late Edition, host Wolf Blitzer did not challenge Rumsfeld's claim that multiple investigative commissions had exonerated former undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas J. Feith's intelligence activities in the Department of Defense's Office of Special Plans. Although Blitzer showed familiarity with one of those commissions, he did not point out that none of the commissions Rumsfeld cited have investigated, much less exonerated Feith regarding his role in faulty prewar intelligence.

Schieffer allowed Rumsfeld's false claim that "[t]he number of countries participating in the [Iraq] coalition has gone up"

On Face the Nation, Schieffer failed to challenge Rumsfeld's apparently false claim that "[t]he number of countries participating in the [Iraq] coalition has gone up." In fact, the current coalition of countries that actually have troops in Iraq, known as Multi-National Force-Iraq, consists of 27 countries, down from the original list of 49 that the White House compiled on March 27, 2003.

From the November 20 broadcast of CBS' Face the Nation:

SCHIEFFER: Well, do you see them [conditions in Iraq] improving? Is that what you're saying here?

RUMSFELD: Clearly. If you go from a successful election in January, to a drafting of a constitution, to a referendum on the constitution with the biggest turnout anyone could have imagined, and the Sunnis participating, and then a group of people running for office right now. In less than a month, there'll be an election. And then there will be a new government. It'll be in place for a period of time. That's progress. That's significant progress. How do you go from 0 to 212,000 Iraqi security forces? Of course that's progress.

SCHIEFFER: But what --

RUMSFELD: The number of countries participating in the coalition has gone up.

SCHIEFFER: But what about these explosions, these car bombs? Hundreds of people being killed, almost on a daily basis. You can't count that as progress, can you, Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld said generals wanted low initial troop levels in Iraq; Stephanopoulos ignored evidence that Rumsfeld played large role

Responding to criticism that the United States entered Iraq with too few troops despite some commanders' requests for more, Rumsfeld, in his appearance on ABC's This Week, claimed that he had followed war planners' recommendations on the initial level of forces in Iraq. Stephanopoulos quoted Powell's comment that "I think we made mistakes by not being able to impose order on the whole country. I don't think we had enough troops to do that," and then noted that "several [generals and officials] said, though, that 300,000 troops could have done it." Rumsfeld responded, "We'll never know. What we do know is that the battlefield commanders believe they had the right number. They recommended that number, and that number was approved." Stephanopoulos left Rumsfeld's claim unchallenged, even though substantial evidence suggests that in developing the Iraq war plan, Rumsfeld rejected the advice of top military commanders who warned that more troops would be necessary to secure postwar Iraq. An October 17, 2004, Knight Ridder article reported that Rumsfeld's claim that he simply approved what battlefield commanders requested ignores his own role in keeping down the number of troops those commanders requested:

Bush, Rumsfeld and other top officials insist that their military commanders were given everything they requested, and Franks wrote in his book, "American Soldier," that Rumsfeld supported his war plan. Technically, that's accurate. However, three top officials who served with Franks at the time said the plan was the product of a lengthy and sometimes heated negotiation between the Central Command and the Pentagon, in which Rumsfeld constantly pressed Franks and other senior officers to commit fewer troops to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

From the November 20 broadcast of ABC's This Week:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator [John] McCain [R-AZ] still said this week that he believes about 10,000 more troops are needed on the ground in Iraq, U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq right now, and it's reopened, I think, this two-year-old debate on whether we had enough troops on the ground right after the invasion. And I want to show you what secretary -- former Secretary of State Colin Powell said about that this week.

POWELL [video clip]: In the aftermath of the war, that part of the war, I think we made mistakes. I think we made mistakes by not being able to impose order on the whole country. I don't think we had enough troops to do that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is Secretary Powell right?

RUMSFELD: Well, the idea that you could have imposed order on that country is a big order. It is a country that takes -- the only thing that imposed order on it over time was a vicious dictatorship that put hundreds of thousands of people into mass graves.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, several said, though, that 300,000 troops could have done it. Do you believe that?

RUMSFELD: We'll never know. We'll never know. What we do know is that the battlefield commanders believe they had the right number, recommended that number, and that number was approved. I think they were correct. I personally believe they were correct. But we'll never know the answer.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, this debate does continue.

Instead of pressing Rumsfeld on the matter, Stephanopoulos changed his focus to current troop levels, asking him to respond to a Time magazine report that 10 Army and Marine officers recently told Sen. John Warner (R-VA), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, that although they need more troops, their requests kept getting rejected.

Rumsfeld's false claims about prewar intelligence unchallenged on This Week, Late Edition

Sunday show hosts also did not challenge Rumsfeld on his claims about prewar intelligence. On This Week, Rumsfeld repeated the debunked administration assertion that Congress saw the same intelligence regarding Iraq as the administration: "The interesting thing to me about the prewar intelligence is clearly it was wrong. It was wrong. But everyone saw the same thing in the executive branch and the legislative branch." Stephanopoulos did not challenge this claim, instead asking Rumsfeld, "Would you have been for an invasion if we had known that?"

On Late Edition, Blitzer asked Rumsfeld if he "owe[d] the American people an apology for all that bad intelligence." Rumsfeld first blamed "the intelligence community" and then, when Blitzer questioned him about Feith's "separate intelligence operation," known as the Office of Special Plans (OSP), Rumsfeld asserted that "it was not a separate intelligence organization" and that it had done nothing wrong. To support this contention, he falsely claimed that Feith's operation had "been looked at by the Senate Intelligence Committee. It's been looked at by the Silberman-Robb or the 9-11 Commission, I think -- one of the two." Blitzer noted that Robb-Silberman, rather than the 9-11 Commission had investigated prewar intelligence. However, despite an apparent familiarity with the commission's work, Blitzer failed to note that, in fact, neither the Robb-Silberman report nor the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on prewar Iraq intelligence exonerated Feith. Indeed, the Robb-Silberman report does not mention either Feith or the Office of Special Plans. As for the Senate Intelligence Committee, The New York Times reported on October 22, 2004, that Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) had issued his own report (pdf) accusing Feith of establishing "a non-Intelligence Community source of intelligence analysis" because Senate Republicans had prevented the Senate Intelligence Committee from assessing Feith's role in intelligence operations leading up to the war.

The 9-11 commission's legal mandate was limited to investigating the causes and immediate response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The commission's report does not explicitly judge Feith's prewar intelligence, but the commission did conclude that "[T]o date we have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship [between Iraq and Al-Qaeda]." Feith challenged this conclusion, as he and his office had repeatedly argued that such a relationship existed, a view with which the CIA disagreed [New York Times, 4/28/04].

From the November 20 broadcast of ABC's This Week:

STEPHANOPOULOS: What has been happening as we debate the number of troops, as we debate whether we withdraw, is also this continual debate over the intelligence leading up to the war. And I know you've said you believe that it's wrong to question the motives or the honesty of administration officials. But I have a different question for you. If you had known that no weapons of mass destruction would be found, would you have advocated invasion?

RUMSFELD: I didn't advocate invasion.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You didn't?

RUMSFELD: No, I wasn't asked. If you read all the books and the things --

STEPHANOPOULOS: You weren't -- Why weren't you asked? That's very puzzling.

RUMSFELD: Well, I'm sure the president understood what my views were. But as a technical matter, did he ever look and say, "What should we do? Should we go do this or not do that?" This is something that the president thought through very carefully.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you trying to distance yourself?

RUMSFELD: Of course not. Of course not. I agreed completely with the decision to go to war and have said that a hundred times. Don't even suggest that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm just asking.

RUMSFELD: Well, you know better. Look, the interesting thing to me about the prewar intelligence is clearly it was wrong. It was wrong. But everyone saw the same thing in the executive branch and the legislative branch and the other countries. It was presented at the U.N. [United Nations].

STEPHANOPOULOS: Would you have been for an invasion if we had known that?

RUMSFELD: If I -- the answer is, probably yes. And there -- our planes were being shot at every day, every week in the no-fly zones. Here was a man who was giving $25,000 to the families of suicide killers, murderers who were doing it. [Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi was in that country during that period. He's a person who had used chemical weapons against his own people and against his neighbors, had invaded Kuwait. The world will be vastly better off with Saddam Hussein gone and with the democratic system in that country. And I think the kind of rehashing and suggesting that there was anything manipulative about the intelligence is really a great disservice to the country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me turn now to the issue of torture and whether the United States has condoned torture.

From the November 20 edition of CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer:

BLITZER: Here is the question that a lot of people want you to answer. Do you, as the defense secretary, owe the American people an apology for all that bad intelligence?

RUMSFELD: Why would the Defense Department? It's the intelligence community that made the intelligence. It was CIA and --

BLITZER: But the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] had an intelligence operation. And you had a separate intelligence operation that Doug Feith, one of your top aides, was running.

RUMSFELD: It was not a separate intelligence organization. You've been reading the press too long.

BLITZER: What is the inspector general investigating now as far as Doug Feith and his intelligence operation?

RUMSFELD: I really don't know. But apparently over the weekend, somebody requested, a congressman or a senator requested a -- I guess it's an I.G. investigation of whether or not something was amiss there. And they will do it. They'll have an investigation. They have the right to ask for it. The I.G. will do that, and we'll see what they say.

BLITZER: Do you believe anything was amiss?

RUMSFELD: No, indeed not. That's been looked at by the Senate Intelligence Committee. It's been looked at by the Silberman-Robb or the 9-11 Commission, I think -- one of the two.

BLITZER: Silberman-Robb.

RUMSFELD: It was Silberman-Robb?

[crosstalk]

BLITZER: They looked at the intelligence. But why do you --

RUMSFELD: There's been no evidence there.

BLITZER: So why is there a need for an inspector general --

RUMSFELD: I don't think there is. But when a congressman or a senator requests it, it happens.


Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
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