Commenting on Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) August 1 foreign policy speech -- in which Obama stated that "[i]f we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and [Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf won't act, we will" -- MSNBC host Tucker Carlson labeled Obama "the former peace candidate" and claimed that Obama "sounds so much like Bush ... on a philosophical level they appear identical." In fact, Obama's policy toward Pakistan differs significantly from that of President Bush, who has -- within a span of five days -- said both that he would and that he would not go after Al Qaeda in Pakistan without the permission of the Pakistani government.
As Media Matters for America 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. Also, Bush, during a September 15, 2006, press conference, ruled out "sending special forces to Pakistan to hunt down bin Laden" in part because "Pakistan is a sovereign nation," but then five days later on CNN said that he would "[a]bsolutely" order U.S. troops into sovereign Pakistani territory "to bring [Osama bin Laden] to justice."
Carlson went on to ask, "[W]hat is the difference between [Obama's] view of foreign policy and Bush's?" adding: "I don't see any difference. They disagree about whether or not the war in Iraq is working. But on a philosophical level, they appear identical. They're both willing to use unilateral action against independent, sovereign nations that don't want it."
In fact, Bush and Obama not only disagree "about whether or not the war in Iraq is working," they also disagree on whether the war should have been fought in the first place. In his August 1 speech, Obama noted that in October 2002, he spoke at "a rally in opposition to war in Iraq. I did not oppose all wars, I said. I was a strong supporter of the war in Afghanistan. But I said I could not support 'a dumb war, a rash war' in Iraq." Obama continued: "I worried about a 'U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences' in the heart of the Muslim world. I pleaded that we 'finish the fight with bin Laden and Al Qaeda.' "
Also, Carlson's claim that both Bush and Obama are "willing to use unilateral action against independent, sovereign nations that don't want it" ignored the fact that, as Media Matters noted, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Obama's proposed policy toward Pakistan involve different situations: Iraq was a sovereign country that was not involved in the 9-11 attacks, while a recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) -- which Obama cited in his August 1 speech -- indicated that Al Qaeda, which did attack the United States on 9-11, is gaining strength along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Notably, Carlson's guests for the segment, Weekly Standard staff writer Matthew Continetti and former Rep. Tom Andrews (D-ME), agreed that Carlson was "totally misreading [Obama's] speech."
From the August 2 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:
OBAMA [video clip]: I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an Al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act, we will.
CARLSON: That looked like Barack Obama, and, as of yesterday, it sounded like him too. Obama gave one of the most remarkable speeches of the '08 campaign so far yesterday in which the former peace candidate advocated sending troops into the sovereign nation of Pakistan. Pakistan wasn't impressed, they said today. John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, though, didn't object to Obama's unilateral military strategy, but fellow candidate Chris Dodd did. And the Quad City Times newspaper in Iowa reported that local Democrats weren't impressed by Obama's bellicose turn either. Has he risked his solid position with the primary voters and the left wing of his party in order to look tough?
Here with their analyses we welcome back the national director of Win Without War and former Democratic congressman from the state of Maine, Tom Andrews, and the Weekly Standard's Matthew Continetti.
Matt, here Obama comes out and says he wants to move unilaterally into Pakistan, if need be, into a sovereign nation, disregarding the will of that nation, and he wants to establish democracy in that country. He sounds so much like Bush, could you see voting for him on the basis of his neoconservative foreign policy?
CONTINETTI: Well, listen to what Obama actually said, Tucker. He said that those terrorist groups in that northwest province, he would be willing to attack them and go after them if Musharraf did not. Now, we talk about a sovereign nation, he's not saying in the speech that he wants to invade Islamabad. He wants to into those territories which, actually, the Pakistani government don't control. What I find so remarkable is the reaction to this speech when, really, Obama's saying nothing remarkable. He's saying that he would, unlike the Bush administration, go after the terrorists in Waziristan. So I'm for it.
CARLSON: I think Bush has said -- Bush has actually said that, too. He said that last year in -- response to a question.
CONTINETTI: In 2005 -- what Obama's talking about, in 2005 an operation to go after top Al Qaeda leaders in Waziristan was called off. It was a battle within the Bush administration --
CARLSON: That's right, but Bush, in response to a question last year, said yes he would be willing to do that. But there is a philosophical debate here that I think is unresolved. Waziristan and the northwest territories of Pakistan are not, in effect, controlled by the government, but they are within the borders of the country. They belong to Pakistan. And an invasion or an insertion of troops would be a unilateral move of the exact kind that Democrats hate. What the hell is this?
CARLSON: I'm totally losing track of the differences between the neocons on the right and the neocons running for president on the left. What are the differences? I don't really get it.
CONTINETTI: There are profound differences --
CARLSON: Philosophically, what are the differences?
CONTINETTI: I mean on the question of Iraq, I mean --
CONTINETTI: --most Republicans are for remaining in Iraq, the Democrats are for leaving.
CARLSON: But if you could boil down to how their philosophies differ, how do they differ?
CONTINETTI: Well, Obama believes the philosophy of unilateral action -- I think you're totally misreading the speech, Tucker. This is not about --
ANDREWS: I agree.
CONTINETTI: This is not about the speech. They story here is the reaction to the speech from some on the right who are criticizing Obama for saying something perfectly reasonable --
CARLSON: No, but I'm not even saying --
CONTINETTI: -- and some on the left who are against Obama for actually willingly attacking terrorist targets.
CARLSON: Hold on. I'm not taking a position on --
CONTINETTI: That's what the story is.
CARLSON: I'm not taking a position on whether or not what he said is reasonable at all. I mean, I think he could argue both sides. You don't want to destabilize Musharraf's regime, though he said he didn't want to destabilize it by bringing democracy to Pakistan. Great idea. But I'm only asking the question: What is the difference between his view of foreign policy and Bush's? I don't see any difference. They disagree about whether or not the war in Iraq is working. But on a philosophical level, they appear identical. They're both willing to use unilateral action against the independent, sovereign nations that don't want it, so like --
ANDREWS: That's not what he said. That's just not what he said.
CONTINETTI: But there's a long-standing American tradition to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.