CNN's Blitzer, Crowley claimed Obama "in sync" with Bush on Pakistan

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

On the August 1 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, discussing an August 1 speech by Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), in which he said that, as president, he would take action against "high-value terrorist targets" in Pakistan, CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley and host Wolf Blitzer both said Obama's comments were "in sync with" or "in line with" Bush administration policy. But as Media Matters for America has noted, The New York Times reported on July 18 that the Bush administration had "reluctantly endorsed" a cease-fire in Pakistan that "intelligence officials and White House aides" saw as one of "the main reasons for Al Qaeda's resurgence" in Pakistan. By contrast, Obama, who was highly critical of Bush in his speech, said: "There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. ... If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and [Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf won't act, we will." Obama said of Bush: "He elevates al Qaeda in Iraq -- which didn't exist before our invasion -- and overlooks the people who hit us on 9/11, who are training new recruits in Pakistan."

During her Situation Room report on Obama's pledge to attack "high-value terrorist targets" in Pakistan, Crowley said: "In the rarest of moments, this puts Obama basically in sync with the Bush administration." Blitzer later stated that Obama's position is "in line with what the president of the United States has said -- he said it to me in an interview." Still later, Blitzer again referred to his September 20, 2006, interview with Bush and said, "Today, Barack Obama says the same thing."

In fact, as Media Matters documented at the time, during the September 20, 2006, interview that he cited, Blitzer left unchallenged Bush's statement that he would "[a]bsolutely" order U.S. troops into Pakistan to capture Osama bin Laden. When Blitzer asked for clarification -- "Even though the Pakistanis say that's their sovereign territory?" -- Bush responded: "We would take the action necessary to bring him to justice":

BLITZER: If you had good, actionable intelligence in Pakistan -- where they were -- would you give the order to kill him or capture him and go into Pakistan?

BUSH: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Even though the Pakistanis say that's their sovereign territory?

BUSH: We would take the action necessary to bring him to justice.

But five days earlier, at a September 15, 2006, White House press conference, Bush had acknowledged that he had previously said that "the idea of sending special forces to Pakistan to hunt down bin Laden was a strategy that would not work," because "Pakistan is a sovereign nation":

Q.: Thank you, Mr. President. Earlier this week, you told a group of journalists that you thought the idea of sending special forces to Pakistan to hunt down bin Laden was a strategy that would not work.

BUSH: Yes.

Q.: Now, recently you've also --

BUSH: Because, first of all, Pakistan is a sovereign nation.

Q.: 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?

BUSH: 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.

During the August 1 press briefing, White House press secretary Tony Snow addressed Obama's pledge of taking action against "high-value terrorist targets" in Pakistan, sounding more like Bush on September 15, 2006, than Bush on September 20, 2006. As the Chicago Tribune noted, Snow said: "[O]ur approach to Pakistan is one that not only respects the sovereignty of Pakistan as a sovereign government, but is also designed to work in a way where we are working in cooperation with the local government."

From the August 1 press briefing:

Q.: I gather, Tony, from your answer to Martha that you don't think very much of Barack Obama's suggestion, he'd send U.S. troops into Pakistan to take care of those safe havens.

SNOW: Well, let me just say we think that our approach to Pakistan is one that not only respects the sovereignty of Pakistan as a sovereign government, but is also designed to work in a way where we are working in cooperation with the local government. So we think that our policy and our approach is the right one.

Q.: Would he not be respecting the sovereignty of -

SNOW: I'm not going to comment on Barack Obama's campaign statements. I'm going to tell you about ours.

Additionally, on July 23, Snow responded to questions about why the Bush administration would "wait for the Pakistanis" to attack a "safe haven": "Because Pakistan is a sovereign government."

From the July 23 press briefing:

Q.: Tony, when you talk about actionable intelligence, though, you've got a safe haven there, people who want to attack the United States. Why not be aggressive? Why not go after them?

SNOW: Well, the fact --

Q.: Why wait for the Pakistanis --

SNOW: Because Pakistan is a sovereign government, and furthermore, we've made it clear that we will offer whatever assistance, technical and otherwise, they have. I outlined a lot of that during a briefing last week. What you're asking is, does the United States need to take unilateral action. We are working in coordination with the Pakistani government.

By contrast, Time magazine political columnist Joe Klein wrote in an August 1 blog post that Obama's approach is the "precise opposite" of Bush's policy:

Finally, on Pakistan, what Obama is proposing is the precise opposite of what Bush has done. It is clear that not only is General Musharraf incapable of controlling his tribal areas, but also that there are elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence services that are actively Salafist and support the jihadis, quite possibly including the Al Qaeda leadership. Bush has chosen to do nothing about this."

In his August 2 "Politico Playbook," Politico chief political writer Mike Allen linked to Crowley's segment as the "Playbook Video of the Day." Allen wrote: "CNN's Candy Crowley says Sen. Barack Obama's comments on attacking terrorist targets in Pakistan put him 'basically in sync with both the Bush administration and Hillary Clinton.' "

From the August 1 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

CROWLEY: Absolutely. You know, the Obama campaign called this a comprehensive speech on terrorism, but anyone looking for the next chapter in the Clinton-Obama spat over diplomacy will be vaguely disappointed.

[begin video clip]

CROWLEY: In a muscular speech on the war against terrorism, presidential candidate Barack Obama promised U.S.-led assaults into Pakistan if necessary.

OBAMA: There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President [Pervez] Musharraf will not act, we will.

CROWLEY: In the rarest of moments, this puts Obama basically in sync with the Bush administration and Hillary Clinton, interviewed on Urban Radio.

CLINTON: If we had actionable intelligence that Osama bin Laden or other high-value targets were in Pakistan, I would ensure that they were targeted and killed or captured.

[end video clip]

[...]

OBAMA [video clip]: If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets, and President Musharraf will not act, we will.

BLITZER: All right, that's very much in line with what the president of the United States has said -- he said it to me in an interview -- what Senator Clinton says. That was not necessarily new ground, but does show that he is firm and trying to project a tough image.

DONNA BRAZILE (Democratic strategist and CNN political analyst): I think Senator Obama had two goals today. One, to show that he would be tough on terror, and this is clearly -- a pre-emptive, non-authorized attack on Pakistan would, you know, fit that bill.

[...]

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about the hypothetical. When I interviewed President Bush last year, I asked him, "If you had good intelligence that you knew where in Pakistan Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri were, would you authorize U.S. forces to go into Pakistan, violate Pakistani sovereignty, and capture or kill Osama bin Laden or other top-ranking Al Qaeda members?" He said, "Absolutely."

Hillary Clinton says the same thing. Today, Barack Obama says the same thing. What would happen in Pakistan to President Musharraf if the U.S. were to overtly go inside their sovereign soil, their territory, and undertake this kind of military mission?

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, International Conflicts
Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Candy Crowley, Wolf Blitzer
Show/Publication
The Situation Room
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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