Blitzer did not challenge Lieberman's assertion that U.S. forces in Iraq are fighting "Al Qaeda"

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

During an interview with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) on the July 10 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer did not challenge Lieberman's numerous assertions that the U.S. military in Iraq is fighting "Al Qaeda," thus allowing Lieberman to conflate, as the Bush administration has done, the Sunni insurgent group "Al Qaeda in Iraq" with the group responsible for the 9-11 attacks. Blitzer could have pointed out that such assertions have been "rejected" by "U.S. military and intelligence officials," according to McClatchy Newspapers. A June 28 McClatchy article reported that these officials "say that Iraqis with ties to al Qaida are only a small fraction of the threat to American troops" and that "[t]he group known as al Qaida in Iraq didn't exist before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, didn't pledge its loyalty to al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden until October 2004 and isn't controlled by bin Laden or his top aides." Moreover, Blitzer failed to note that Lieberman's description of the enemy in Iraq as "Al Qaeda" echoes a rhetorical strategy that New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt documented in his July 8 column: "As domestic support for the war in Iraq continues to melt away, President Bush and the United States military in Baghdad are increasingly pointing to a single villain on the battlefield: Al Qaeda." Hoyt wrote that this strategy has "political advantages" because the group "is an enemy Americans understand."

Blitzer also failed to challenge Lieberman's claim that "if we don't win" in Iraq, "they come after us back here at home." As Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted, several news outlets have recently reported that security and terrorism experts have challenged the view that terrorists in Iraq will attack Americans inside the United States if U.S. troops withdraw.

During the interview, Lieberman referred to the enemy the U.S. military faces in Iraq as "Al Qaeda" on four separate occasions. Lieberman told Blitzer that "we've got the enemy, Al Qaeda, on the run" in Iraq; that "Iraq falls apart" if "Iran and Al Qaeda win"; that tribal leaders in Iraq have "decided that Al Qaeda really is their enemy" and that the United States is in Iraq "to stop Iran and Al Qaeda."

Yet Blitzer did not challenge Lieberman's assertions despite a number of recent reports from media outlets disputing the notion that "Al Qaeda in Iraq" or "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia" is linked to the terrorist group responsible for the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001.

For example, the June 28 McClatchy article noted that Bush's description of Al Qaeda as "the main enemy" in Iraq was "rejected by his administration's senior intelligence analysts":

Facing eroding support for his Iraq policy, even among Republicans, President Bush on Thursday called al Qaida "the main enemy" in Iraq, an assertion rejected by his administration's senior intelligence analysts.

The reference, in a major speech at the Naval War College that referred to al Qaida at least 27 times, seemed calculated to use lingering outrage over the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to bolster support for the current buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq, despite evidence that sending more troops hasn't reduced the violence or sped Iraqi government action on key issues.

Bush called al Qaida in Iraq the perpetrator of the worst violence racking that country and said it was the same group that had carried out the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

[...]

U.S. military and intelligence officials, however, say that Iraqis with ties to al Qaida are only a small fraction of the threat to American troops. The group known as al Qaida in Iraq didn't exist before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, didn't pledge its loyalty to al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden until October 2004 and isn't controlled by bin Laden or his top aides.

Following Hoyt's column, the Times similarly explained in a July 9 article that the relationship between the two groups has not been wholly substantiated, reporting that "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia [is] a Sunni Arab extremist group that claims to have an affiliation with Osama bin Laden's network, though the precise relationship is unknown." Additionally, the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post have published recent articles that distinguish between the two groups. From a July 10 AP article:

Al-Qaeda in Iraq emerged several years ago under the leadership of Abu Musa[b] al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian radical who was killed last year in a U.S. airstrike in Diyala. The Iraqi chapter's relationship to the network led by Osama bin Laden remains a topic of debate among experts.

On July 11, the Los Angeles Times devoted an article to Bush's conflation of Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda in Iraq:

By describing the U.S. effort in Iraq largely as a struggle against Al Qaeda, President Bush on Tuesday reached for a familiar -- but widely questioned -- way of defining the war.

[...]

Insurgents affiliated with the group that calls itself Al Qaeda in Iraq have been involved in many attacks in that country. But the CIA, Pentagon and other experts have debated the group's role in Iraq and its ties to Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

From a July 11 Washington Post article:

In his speech, Bush once again conflated two organizations, al-Qaeda in Iraq and the international network led by Osama bin Laden, saying that the same group that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, is responsible for much of the violence in Iraq. While the Iraq militants are inspired by bin Laden, intelligence analysts say the Iraqi group is composed overwhelmingly of Iraqis and does not take direction from bin Laden.

From the July 10 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: As the Bush administration prepares to give a progress report in the coming days on its Iraq strategy, some senators are stepping up their push for a pullout. One measure demands that a withdrawal start in 120 days or so. Another would require U.S. troops to spend as much time at home as they do in combat.

Independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut calling these amendments "untimely, unwise, and unfair." He's joining us now live from Capitol Hill.

Senator, thanks for coming in.

LIEBERMAN: Good to be with you, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: I listened carefully to your remarks today and over the past few days. And one line sort of jumps out at us, when we hear you say we're winning in Iraq right now. You know a lot of people don't believe that.

LIEBERMAN: Yeah, and I understand that. And what I mean is that we've got the enemy, Al Qaeda, on the run. We've chased them out of Anbar Province, where they were gonna create the capital for the Islamist Republic of Iraq. We've chased them now to Diyala. All of this possible because of the surge forces that we have -- the extra troops at General [David] Petraeus' command. And we've reduced -- our troops have reduced the deaths from sectarian violence.

So, the momentum, I believe, has switched in the direction of the coalition and Iraqi security forces.

But this is a war, Wolf, and the enemy is doing what an enemy would do. And this is an unbelievably, unconventionally cruel enemy. It's blowing itself up in increasing numbers in these dramatic suicide bombings, which are aimed at creating more sectarian violence and, frankly, they're aimed at affecting American public opinion and trying to urge the American people to get us out of the war.

BLITZER: When I played the sound bite of you saying the U.S. has the U.S. has the enemy on the run and the U.S. is winning to Senator Jim Webb [D] of Virginia in the last hour, he suggested that it's sort of these tactical victories that he personally saw happen in Vietnam, when he was a Marine during the Vietnam War. But big picture, it's by no means looking very good right now.

LIEBERMAN: Well, I don't agree with that, respectfully. And I appreciate what Jim said. It is a -- and we are achieving some tactical victories now. And I don't think it's over by any means.

But what I'm saying is it's moving in the right direction, and that's why this is such an unfair and inappropriate time to be mandating a retreat. I mean, that would be basically legislating defeat when we still have a chance to win, and I think you only want to do that if you don't think it's worth winning. I think it's worth winning and fighting to win, because if we don't, Iran and Al Qaeda win. Iraq falls apart; the Middle East is in chaos; and they come after us back here at home.

I think it's -- we have a chance to turn this around. And shame on us if Congress, from here, legislates a defeat that our military will never allow to happen over there.

BLITZER: The -- so much of this depends on cooperation and fortitude on behalf of the Iraqis themselves -- the Iraqi government, the Iraqi military. Senator [John] Warner [R-VA] introduced legislation that's now a law -- 18 of these so-called benchmarks on -- to make sure the Iraqis are doing what they're supposed to be doing. And in the coming days, the Bush administration has to report to you -- to Congress -- on whether they're actually implementing, living up to these benchmarks.

Early indications are, Senator, they are not.

You must be disappointed in the government and the Iraqi military, that they're simply not doing what they should be doing.

LIEBERMAN: I am disappointed, but the picture is mixed. It's not all bleak. There's a lot of goodwill over there on the part of the Iraqi leadership and they're working hard to try to get some of the legislation passed which will show that they are beginning to reconcile their differences.

I'll tell you one of the most exciting and encouraging things I saw over in Iraq on my last visit, about a month ago, was not at the high government level, but there are district councils that are being formed by people all over Iraq, that are a kind of a self-governing, grassroots-up experience. And of course, the movement of a lot of tribal leaders, which have a lot of clout there, in our direction, because they've decided that Al Qaeda really is their enemy. That's encouraging, too.

But look, we're there to stop Iran and Al Qaeda. But we're also there to provide some stability and security, in which the Iraqi government has to take hold of its own destiny. And to the extent that they've not done that yet, of course it's disappointing. And we've got to do everything we can to pressure them to do better.

BLITZER: You caused a stir in recent days by suggesting -- and I'm paraphrasing -- that the U.S. should consider, if necessary, bombing Iran's nuclear facilities. A lot of people were alarmed by that. But tell us precisely what you have in mind.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Wolf Blitzer
Show/Publication
The Situation Room
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