CNN aired Bush assertion about Iraq three times in one hour without assessing its validity

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

President Bush's statement, "The enemy in Vietnam had neither the intent nor the capability to strike our homeland. The enemy in Iraq does," was aired three times in the 4 p.m. ET hour of the May 23 edition of CNN's The Situation Room. While host Wolf Blitzer invited Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards to respond to the statement at one point, at no point did he or other CNN personalities note that, as Media Matters for America has documented, the assertion that terrorists will "strike our homeland" following a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq is widely challenged by experts.

In his May 23 speech, as CNN showed, Bush said that "[t]he enemy in Iraq" had "the intent" and "the capability to strike our homeland." Bush continued, adding that "we must fight the terrorists where they live so we don't have to fight them where we live," suggesting that curtailing combat in Iraq would cause terrorists to attack our "homeland":

BUSH: The enemy in Vietnam had neither the intent nor the capability to strike our homeland. The enemy in Iraq does. Nine-eleven taught us that to protect the American people, we must fight the terrorists where they live so that we don't have to fight them where we live.

CNN first aired the quote during Blitzer's interview with Edwards after Edwards' statement that Congress should use its funding authority to force Bush to end the war. Following the quotation, Blitzer asked Edwards: "All right, what do you say to the president, Senator?" Edwards replied: "I say the president has used this term that he uses over and over -- "global war on terror" -- as a political slogan. He uses it to justify everything he does -- Guantánamo, the ongoing presence in Iraq, spying on Americans." He continued: "He uses it to bludgeon people who -- who disagree with him, who dissent and speak out in this democracy against it."

CNN aired the Bush quote again during CNN congressional correspondent Ed Henry's report on Bush's speech. Henry contextualized the Vietnam quote -- "Delivering the commencement at the Coast Guard Academy, President Bush tried to push back at critics who say Iraq is a Vietnam-style quagmire" -- but did not report that the assertion is widely disputed.

Bush's quote aired a third time in a report by CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider about which issues were considered important by Democrats and Republicans according to a May 4-6 CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll. After saying that "Republicans see Iraq as part of the terrorist threat," Schneider aired Bush's Vietnam comparison. Schneider followed Bush's quote by saying, "Most of the Republicans' top issues relate to national security."

By contrast, the May 23 edition of NBC's Nightly News included a response to another part of Bush's speech in a report by NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory that quoted NBC terrorism analyst Michael Sheehan as challenging Bush's speech. Sheehan's challenge conflicted with Bush's claim that "[t]he enemy in Iraq does" have "the capability to strike our homeland":

SHEEHAN: Al Qaeda clearly has demonstrated an operational capability in Iraq to conduct sophisticated terrorist operations there. However, they have not mastered the ability to export the operatives and the capability to the United States.

Additionally, as Media Matters has documented, the assertion that terrorists will "strike our homeland" following a U.S. troop withdrawal is widely challenged by experts:

  • According to an April 6 McClatchy Newspapers article, as Media Matters noted, "[m]ilitary and diplomatic analysts" say that a similar claim President Bush has repeatedly made about the Iraq war -- that "this is a war in which, if we were to leave before the job is done, the enemy would follow us here" -- "exaggerate[s] the threat that the enemy forces in Iraq pose to the U.S. mainland." The article also reported: "U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic experts in Bush's own government say the violence in Iraq is primarily a struggle for power between Shiite and Sunni Muslim Iraqis seeking to dominate their society, not a crusade by radical Sunni jihadists bent on carrying the battle to the United States."
  • A March 18 Washington Post article reported that "U.S. intelligence officials and outside experts" have said that Al Qaeda in Iraq "poses little danger to the security of the U.S. homeland," as Media Matters also documented.
  • In an April 30 report from National Public Radio's All Things Considered exploring Bush's claim that "[i]f we do not defeat the terrorists and extremists in Iraq, they ... will follow us to the United States of America," NPR correspondent David Welna cited several experts challenging this claim. He reported that retired Brig. Gen. John H. Johns considers that warning "propaganda" and that, according to Johns, "It's actually leaving American forces in Iraq ... that increases the chances of a terrorist attack on the U.S." Welna also reported that retired Army Lt. Col. James Carafano, a research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, "calls asserting that terrorists will follow U.S. troops home naive and poor rhetoric." Welna's report also featured a clip of Carafano saying: "There's no national security analyst that's really credible who thinks that people are going to come from Iraq and attack the United States -- that that's a credible scenario."

Henry's report and the interview with Edwards both re-aired on the 7 p.m. ET hour of The Situation Room.

From Bush's May 23 commencement address at the United States Coast Guard Academy:

The fight in Iraq is tough, but my point today to you is the fight is essential to our security -- al Qaeda's leaders inside and outside of Iraq have not given up on their objective of attacking America again. Now, many critics compare the battle in Iraq to the situation we faced in Vietnam. There are many differences between the two conflicts, but one stands out above all: The enemy in Vietnam had neither the intent nor the capability to strike our homeland. The enemy in Iraq does. Nine-eleven taught us that to protect the American people, we must fight the terrorists where they live so that we don't have to fight them where we live.

From the 4 p.m. ET hour of the May 23 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: Some of the Democratic leaders say they're going to find other opportunities in the next few months to attach that kind of troop withdrawal deadline to other legislation that the president wants. So while they're not going to get everything they want right now, they're still going to have that opportunity down the road.

EDWARDS: This president is not going to negotiate about this, Wolf. How clear could anything be? He will not negotiate. He will not compromise. He does not think he's capable of doing anything wrong. He has to be stopped.

And the power that the Congress has is its constitutional power to fund -- defund. And they need to use that power to force this president down a different course. It's that simple.

BLITZER: The president spoke out today at the U.S. Coast Guard commencement and he said the threat right now from al Qaeda in Iraq is enormous. And he made the comparison to Vietnam. Listen to what he said.

BUSH [video clip]: The enemy in Vietnam had neither the intent nor the capability to strike our homeland. The enemy in Iraq does.

BLITZER: All right, what do you say to the president, Senator?

EDWARDS: I say the president has used this term that he uses over and over - "global war on terror" -- as a political slogan. He uses it to justify everything he does -- Guantánamo, the ongoing presence in Iraq, spying on Americans. He uses it to bludgeon people who -- who disagree with him, who dissent and speak out in this democracy against him.

[...]

HENRY: Delivering the commencement at the Coast Guard Academy, President Bush tried to push back at critics who say Iraq is a Vietnam-style quagmire.

BUSH [video clip]: The enemy in Vietnam had neither the intent nor the capability to strike our homeland. The enemy in Iraq does.

HENRY: Trying to bolster his case Al Qaeda is the chief enemy in Baghdad, the president declassified intelligence showing in 2005 Osama bin Laden was trying to set up a unit in Iraq to launch terror attacks against America.

[...]

SCHNEIDER: Republican voters show noticeably less concern about all five issues. What are Republicans' top concerns? Terrorism tops the list, followed by Iraq. Republicans see Iraq as part of the terrorist threat.

BUSH [video clip]: The enemy in Vietnam had neither the intent nor the capability to strike our homeland. The enemy in Iraq does.

SCHNEIDER: Most of the Republicans' top issues relate to national security. Even so, Democrats are just as concerned about terrorism and more concerned about Iraq, Iran, and corruption. The only issue Republicans are more concerned about: immigration.

From the May 23 edition of NBC's Nightly News:

GREGORY: The backdrop was picturesque, Connecticut's Coast Guard Academy, but the president's message was dire.

BUSH: Al Qaeda's leaders inside and outside of Iraq have not given up on their objective of attacking America again.

GREGORY: Today the president openly discussed two-year-old previously classified intelligence from Iraq. It showed that Osama bin Laden enlisted his top operative in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to establish a terror cell capable of launching attacks against the U.S. from Iraq.

BUSH: In the minds of Al Qaeda leaders, 9-11 was just a down payment on the violence yet to come.

GREGORY: U.S. forces killed Zarqawi last year. The disclosure of this intelligence now appeared designed to bolster the president's argument that terrorists in Iraq will follow U.S. troops home. But a former counterterrorism official suggests the claim may be exaggerated.

SHEEHAN: Al Qaeda clearly has demonstrated an operational capability in Iraq to conduct sophisticated terrorist operations there. However, they have not mastered the ability to export the operatives and the capability to the United States.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Ed Henry, Bill Schneider, Wolf Blitzer
Show/Publication
The Situation Room
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.