Hannity repeatedly mischaracterized Obama remarks, accused him of "political missteps"

››› ››› MATTHEW BIEDLINGMAIER

On Hannity & Colmes, Sean Hannity repeatedly mischaracterized Barack Obama's recent statements about the war in Afghanistan, the use of force against terrorists in Pakistan, and the use of nuclear weapons.

On the August 14 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, co-host Sean Hannity repeatedly mischaracterized remarks by Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), first during an interview with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and later during an interview with Chicago Tribune reporter David Mendell, author of the new book Obama: From Promise to Power (Amistad, August 2007).

  • While interviewing Romney, Hannity played a video clip of Obama's August 13 campaign appearance in Nashua, New Hampshire, during which Obama said, "We've got to get the job done there [in Afghanistan] and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there." During the interview with Mendell, Hannity referred to Obama's purported "political missteps" and characterized Obama as "accusing" U.S. forces of "air-raiding villages and killing civilians." However, U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan -- and accounts of resulting civilian casualties -- have been widely reported in the media and have reportedly provoked criticism from Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a British commander stationed there. The Associated Press reported in a "Fact Check" responding to conservative attacks on Obama that "Western forces have been killing civilians at a faster rate than the insurgents."
  • Hannity claimed that Obama has stated his "willingness to invade an ally against their will," referring to Pakistan. However, as Media Matters for America repeatedly noted, Obama never said he would "invade Pakistan." Rather, Obama stated in an August 1 speech: "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets [in Pakistan] and President [Pervez] Musharraf won't act, we will."
  • Hannity also claimed that Obama has said "he would take away the nuclear deterrent that we've had in this country" and later claimed that Obama said he would use nuclear weapons "under no conditions." However, Obama actually said he would not use nuclear weapons "in any circumstance" to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, specifically.

Air strikes and civilian deaths in Afghanistan

During the interview with Romney, Hannity prefaced the video of Obama's August 13 comments in New Hampshire by asserting, "One of the big controversies emerging today are the comments of Barack Obama, and I want to play this for our audience because I think this is very critical. He's now made a number of misstatements in the last number of days." After playing the video, Romney asserted: "It's an extraordinary statement, a disappointing statement. He's now -- how many times -- three or four or five times said many things that he must badly recognize as being a huge error, bad misstatements." Later, during the interview with Mendell, Hannity again played the video of Obama's comments and asked, "Would you think he's making some political missteps here?" Mendell replied: "I think he would like to have some of those comments back. I think he's been, yeah, a little bit all over the place with his foreign policy. He's doing a lot of talking out there on the stump. This is something that he's not done before in a presidential campaign. So he seems to be making a few missteps with his speeches." However, as the AP reported in its "Fact Check," "Western forces have been killing civilians at a faster rate than the insurgents," a trend that reportedly led Karzai to "express[] his concern about the civilian deaths" during a recent meeting with President Bush. From the August 14 AP article:

"We've got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there," Obama said.

[...]

A check of the facts shows that Western forces have been killing civilians at a faster rate than the insurgents have been killing civilians.

The U.S. and NATO say they don't have civilian casualty figures, but The Associated Press has been keeping count based on figures from Afghan and international officials. Tracking civilian deaths is a difficult task because they often occur in remote and dangerous areas that are difficult to reach and verify.

As of Aug. 1, the AP count shows that while militants killed 231 civilians in attacks in 2007, Western forces killed 286. Another 20 were killed in crossfire that can't be attributed to one party.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed his concern about the civilian deaths during a meeting last week with President Bush.

Bush said he understands the agony that Afghans feel over the loss of innocent lives and that he is doing everything he can to protect them. He said the Taliban are using civilians as human shields and have no regard for their lives.

"The president rightly expressed his concerns about civilian casualty," Bush said of Karzai. "And I assured him that we share those concerns."

Further, in a July 7 article on NATO and U.S. airstrikes reported to have killed more than 100 Afghan civilians, Reuters cited the assessment of military analysts that "a shortage of ground troops means commanders often turn to air power":

President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly called for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the separate U.S. force in Afghanistan to coordinate more closely with his troops to curb a spate of civilian deaths from airstrikes.

But Western unwillingness to accept casualties among their own soldiers and a shortage of ground troops means commanders often turn to air power to beat the Taliban, and that almost inevitably leads to civilians deaths, military analysts say.

Casualties are also boosting Taliban numbers, analysts say.

Action against terrorists in Pakistan

Hannity also claimed that Obama has stated his "willingness to invade an ally against their will," referring to Pakistan. However, Obama never said he would "invade an ally against their will." Rather, he stated in an August 1 speech that "Al Qaeda has a sanctuary in Pakistan," adding that "[t]he first step must be getting off the wrong battlefield in Iraq, and taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan." Obama went on to assert: "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets [in Pakistan] and President Musharraf won't act, we will," but he did not elaborate on the nature of this action. Obama has since pointed out that he "never called for an invasion of Pakistan." From his August 1 speech:

As president, I would make the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional, and I would make our conditions clear: Pakistan must make substantial progress in closing down the training camps, evicting foreign fighters, and preventing the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan.

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 won't act, we will.

And Pakistan needs more than F-16s to combat extremism. As the Pakistani government increases investment in secular education to counter radical madrasas, my administration will increase America's commitment. We must help Pakistan invest in the provinces along the Afghan border, so that the extremists' program of hate is met with one of hope. And we must not turn a blind eye to elections that are neither free nor fair -- our goal is not simply an ally in Pakistan, it is a democratic ally.

[...]

According to the National Intelligence Estimate, the threat to our homeland from al Qaeda is "persistent and evolving." Iraq is a training ground for terror, torn apart by civil war. Afghanistan is more violent than it has been since 2001. Al Qaeda has a sanctuary in Pakistan. Israel is besieged by emboldened enemies, talking openly of its destruction. Iran is now presenting the broadest strategic challenge to the United States in the Middle East in a generation. Groups affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda operate worldwide. Six years after 9/11, we are again in the midst of a "summer of threat," with bin Laden and many more terrorists determined to strike in the United States.

[...]

It is time to turn the page. When I am President, we will wage the war that has to be won, with a comprehensive strategy with five elements: getting out of Iraq and on to the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing the capabilities and partnerships we need to take out the terrorists and the world's most deadly weapons; engaging the world to dry up support for terror and extremism; restoring our values; and securing a more resilient homeland.

The first step must be getting off the wrong battlefield in Iraq, and taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The nuclear option

Speaking with Romney, Hannity asserted that Obama "would take away the nuclear deterrent that we've had in this country." Hannity later told Mendell that Obama stated "under no conditions" would he use nuclear weapons. Hannity was apparently referring to Obama's statement during an August 2 interview with the AP that "it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance." However, Hannity did not note that Obama was responding to a question specifically regarding whether he would use nuclear weapons to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Indeed, according to a transcript of the interview obtained by Politico senior political writer Ben Smith, Obama was asked, "In Afghanistan or Pakistan, is there any circumstance where you would be prepared or willing to use nuclear weapons to defeat terrorism and Osama bin Laden?" From the AP article on the interview:

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday he would not use nuclear weapons "in any circumstance" to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance," Obama said, with a pause, "involving civilians." Then he quickly added, "Let me scratch that. There's been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That's not on the table."

Obama was responding to a question by the Associated Press about whether there was any circumstance where he would be prepared or willing to use nuclear weapons to defeat terrorism and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

"There's been no discussion of using nuclear weapons and that's not a hypothetical that I'm going to discuss," Obama said after a Capitol Hill breakfast with constituents.

From the August 14 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: One of the big controversies emerging today are the comments of Barack Obama, and I want to play this for our audience because I think this is very critical. He's now made a number of misstatements in the last number of days. But let's roll this tape about what he had to say about our troops air-raiding villages and killing civilians.

OBAMA [video clip]: But we've got to get the job done there. And that requires us to have enough troops that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there.

HANNITY: What's your reaction to that, Governor?

ROMNEY: It's an extraordinary statement, a disappointing statement. He's now -- how many times -- three or four or five times said many things that he must badly recognize as being a huge error, bad misstatements. I think he's, in some respects, shown that he just hasn't given his words careful enough thought. And I think it's dispiriting to our troops, it is disrespectful of our troops to say such a thing. The only people who say things like that are people on the other side of this issue.

HANNITY: Well, let me ask you this. He said without preconditions he'd meet with people like Kim Jong Il, Ahmadinejad. Then Hillary said that that was naive and irresponsible. And then his reaction to that was he would bomb an ally, General Musharraf in Pakistan. And he would take away the nuclear deterrent that we've had in this country. And now he makes this. And here's a tough question for you. Does that, coupled with these remarks here, in your mind say that Barack Obama is not qualified to be president of the United States?

ROMNEY: Well, I don't think the people of America are going to select Barack Obama, and I think this is an evidence as to why they should not and cannot. I think they're not going to select Hillary Clinton or John Edwards either because America is not going to turn left. America is not going to say that we're going to abandon our support of our troops. The comments he's made have gone beyond the idea of, "Look, we have different views about what to do in Iraq." They go to the foundation of whether we support our troops and stand behind our military. What he said in this latest round -- I hope he apologizes for and says it was a misstatement. He has to do that. Otherwise, what he's letting stand is a suggestion that somehow our troops are not noble and dignified. I mean, it's an outrageous thing, and I have to anticipate he's going to retreat from it.

[...]

HANNITY: Joining us now to analyze all of this, we have the author of the brand new book From Promise -- Obama: From Promise to Power, David Mendell is with us. David, thank you for being with us.

MENDELL: Thank you, Sean.

HANNITY: Would you agree with my assessment? Starting with the YouTube debate and his willingness, without preconditions, to talk to people like Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong Il, you know, leading up to his willingness to bomb an ally, Pakistan, you know, followed by his statement that under no conditions we use nuclear weapons, and now, today, saying our troops are air-raiding villages and killing civilians. Would you think he's making some political missteps here?

MENDELL: I think he would like to have some of those comments back. I think he's been, yeah, a little bit all over the place with his foreign policy. He's doing a lot of talking out there on the stump. This is something that he's not done before in a presidential campaign. So he seems to be making a few missteps with his speeches.

HANNITY: Are these a few missteps, or is this going to kill his candidacy here?

MENDELL: I can't answer that question. You know, the voters can answer that question. At the end of the day, it's going to depend whether -- there are five more months in this campaign until we get to Iowa. He will probably be competitive in Iowa. He's got enough money to compete there. Hillary, Senator Clinton, she's got five months to make some missteps. He -- certainly Senator Obama has had a couple of bad weeks here, but we'll see. I don't think it'll end his candidacy, no.

HANNITY: Well, let me ask you this. I'm thinking here, if I'm a family member of a brave troop that's serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, and I hear one of the major presidential candidates accusing my son and his colleagues of air-raiding villages and killing civilians, on top of a willingness to invade an ally against their will and sit down with Ahmadinejad, I'm thinking, "This guy doesn't have a clue and has no business, you know, running for president. Why would I conclude anything else?"

MENDELL: Well, I'm not here to defend his candidacy or defend him. I'm an author of a book about him. I think his remarks probably he would have to take back. I think his campaign is probably -- they're having conversations now as to how to try to come back from this.

Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Person
Sean Hannity
Show/Publication
Hannity & Colmes
Stories/Interests
Attacks on Progressives, Propaganda/Noise Machine, Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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