In separate interviews with Condoleezza Rice, Matt Lauer and Robin Roberts failed to question Rice about President Bush's contradictory statements on the search for Osama bin Laden, as well as a recent report that the administration hired individuals to rebuild Iraq based on their "loyalty to the Bush administration."
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In September 19 interviews with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, neither Matt Lauer, co-host of NBC's Today, nor Robin Roberts, co-host of ABC's Good Morning America, asked Rice about recent contradictory statements by President Bush about the search for Osama bin Laden. Nor did they ask about a recent front-page Washington Post report that the administration hired individuals who "lacked vital skills and experience" to assist in rebuilding Iraq based on their "loyalty to the Bush administration."
In a September 15 press conference, President Bush claimed that the United States would need to be "invited by the government of Pakistan" to send Special Forces into that country in an attempt to capture bin Laden, because Pakistan is a "sovereign nation":
RICHARD WOLFFE [Newsweek senior White House correspondent]: Well, recently you've also described bin Laden as a sort of modern-day Hitler or Mussolini. And I'm wondering why, if you can explain why you think it's a bad idea to send more resources to hunt down bin Laden, wherever he is?
THE PRESIDENT: We are, Richard. Thank you. Thanks for asking the question. They were asking me about somebody's report, well, special forces here -- Pakistan -- if he is in Pakistan, as this person thought he might be, who is asking the question -- Pakistan is a sovereign nation. In order for us to send thousands of troops into a sovereign nation, we've got to be invited by the government of Pakistan.
Secondly, the best way to find somebody who is hiding is to enhance your intelligence and to spend the resources necessary to do that; then when you find him, you bring him to justice. And there is a kind of an urban myth here in Washington about how this administration hasn't stayed focused on Osama bin Laden. Forget it. It's convenient throw-away lines when people say that. We have been on the hunt, and we'll stay on the hunt until we bring him to justice, and we're doing it in a smart fashion, Richard. We are. And I look forward to talking to President [Pervez] Musharraf.
Look, he doesn't like Al Qaeda. They tried to kill him. And we've had a good record of bringing people to justice inside of Pakistan, because the Paks are in the lead. They know the stakes about dealing with a violent form of ideological extremists. And so we will continue on the hunt. And we've been effective about bringing to justice most of those who planned and plotted the 9-11 attacks, and we've still got a lot of pressure on them. The best way to protect the homeland is to stay on the offense and keep pressure on them.
But Bush's remark that the United States would need to be "invited" to pursue bin Laden in a "sovereign nation" stands in stark contrast to other recent statements he has made about the hunt for bin Laden. As Media Matters for America has noted, although former CIA director Porter Goss said in 2005 that the Bush administration has an "excellent idea" where bin Laden is, but that it was difficult to capture him because of "sanctuaries in sovereign nations," Bush recently declared that "[w]e have made it clear to all nations that if you harbor terrorists, you are just as guilty as the terrorists, you are an enemy of the United States, and you will be held to account." Bush reiterated that position in his Oval Office address to the nation on the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, stating: "On September the 11th, we resolved that we would go on the offense against our enemies, and we would not distinguish between the terrorists and those who harbor or support them." As Media Matters has also noted, according to news reports, the Pakistani army recently negotiated a "peace agreement" with Al Qaeda militants along the Afghan border -- where many believe bin Laden is hiding.
As secretary of state, Rice would presumably be able to clarify whether administration policy is to track down terrorists in sovereign nations only when they are "invited" in, or whether the administration believes that nations that harbor terrorists are "as guilty as the terrorists" and will therefore "be held to account." But neither NBC's Lauer nor ABC's Roberts asked Rice to do so.
Also, in discussions about the risk of Iraq descending into full-scale civil war, neither Lauer nor Roberts asked Rice about Washington Post staff writer Rajiv Chandrasekaran's front-page article from two days before, reporting that many of the individuals hired by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to assist in rebuilding Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion "lacked vital skills and experience" and were hired based on their "loyalty to the Bush administration" rather than their expertise in "the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction." The Post article further noted that "[t]he decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest is now regarded by many people involved in the 3 1/2 -year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration's gravest errors."
Rice blamed the chaos in Iraq on years of rule by a "brutal dictator" and a tradition of solving problems through "violence and repression." Neither Lauer nor Roberts mentioned the political cronyism reported by the Post as another possible explanation for the current difficulties in Iraq. As Media Matters noted, cable and broadcast networks and major newspapers have ignored the Post report.
From the September 19 broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America:
ROBERTS: When you have the secretary-general of the United Nations going over to Iraq, Kofi Annan, and he comes back and he says -- the grave risk of an all-out civil war. This is the head of the United Nations saying this. Is he right?
RICE: Well, I was just with Iraqi leaders yesterday. We had an international meeting for support for Iraq. And the president of Iraq, the deputy prime minister of Iraq were not there to talk about civil war. They were there to talk about their plans for a unified Iraq, where Kurds and Shia and Sunni can live together. They were there to talk about their plans to rebuild Iraq into a great society. Iraq was a country that was ruled by a brutal dictator, someone who really snuffed out any hope in that country. That was a country in which differences were dealt with by violence or by repression. But it is always worth it, and I think the Iraqi people will emerge strong, they will emerge united, but, it's it's going to be difficult. There's no doubt about that.
ROBERTS: Let's move on from Iraq to Iran --
From the September 19 broadcast of NBC's Today:
LAUER: We're starting to hear in Iraq people -- military leaders and others -- worry about full-scale civil war there. And I'm just curious about definitions, here.
LAUER: Why isn't Iraq already in a civil war, based on what's happening there?
RICE: Well, because Iraqis have not given up on national unity; because Sunni and Shia and Kurds are working together for a national unity government. You have a few people who are inciting and who are doing violent things to try to sow division and to exploit divisions that have been there a long, long time. These are people in Iraq who dealt with their differences through violence and through repression. Now they're trying to deal with those differences through politics, and it's hard. But I sat with Iraqi leaders yesterday in that very meeting, out of which Kofi Annan is quoted. I sat with community leaders from the entire international community who talked about a more hopeful Iraq, about Iraq's plans for reforming its economy, for dealing with its oil revenues, for dealing with its security situation. And those Iraqi leaders who, at great sacrifice -- and by the way, the Iraqi people, at great sacrifice -- are continuing to pursue an Iraq that will be a different kind of Iraq in a different kind of Middle East -- don't talk about civil war. They talk about their hopes for an Iraq that will be unified, peaceful, and free.
LAUER: Busy week at the United Nations this week, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be right in the middle of it. Again, it's always good to have you here in the studio.
RICE: Thank you.