Blitzer again ignored Bush's inconsistent statements on Pakistani sovereignty

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

In a recent interview, CNN's Wolf Blitzer did not challenge President Bush when he agreed that "absolutely" he "would authorize U.S. troops to go into Pakistan if [he] had actionable intelligence on Osama bin Laden's whereabouts or other top-ranking Al Qaeda members." When Bush stressed that his position 'hasn't changed," Blitzer did not note that Bush's September 2006 statement -- that he would "[a]bsolutely" order U.S. troops into Pakistan to capture bin Laden -- was inconsistent with a statement he had made five days earlier -- that the United States would not send troops into Pakistan to hunt for bin Laden unless it was "invited" to do so, because Pakistan is a "sovereign nation."

During an interview that aired on the November 28 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer asked President Bush: "[A] year ago September ... you told me that 'absolutely' -- that was your word -- you would authorize U.S. troops to go into Pakistan if you had actionable intelligence on Osama bin Laden's whereabouts or other top-ranking Al Qaeda members. Is that still your position?" When Bush replied, "Yeah," Blitzer asked, "Hasn't changed?" Bush responded: "No, hasn't changed." During the interview, on-screen text read: "Would Send Troops to Pakistan: Position 'Hasn't Changed' " But as Media Matters for America documented, Bush's answer during that September 20, 2006, CNN interview -- that he would "[a]bsolutely" order U.S. troops into Pakistan to capture bin Laden -- was inconsistent with a statement he had made five days earlier -- that the United States would not send troops into Pakistan to hunt for bin Laden unless it was "invited" to do so, because Pakistan is a "sovereign nation."

During that September 2006 interview, Blitzer also did not challenge Bush on his statement that he would "[a]bsolutely" order U.S. troops into Pakistan to capture bin Laden. When Blitzer asked Bush for clarification -- "Even though the Pakistanis say that's their sovereign territory?" -- Bush replied, "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 affirmed his previously stated position 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.

As recently as August 2007, the White House was stressing the need in fighting terrorism to respect Pakistan's sovereignty. As the Chicago Tribune noted, at an August 1 press briefing, then-White House press secretary Tony 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 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.

As Media Matters has documented, Blitzer has repeatedly ignored Bush administration inconsistency on this issue.

From the November 28 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: Let me ask a quick question about Pervez Musharraf, who took off his uniform today, the president of Pakistan. This is what you've been asking him to do. Do you believe this is a significant step in trying to restore democracy in Pakistan?

BUSH: I think it is -- I do. It is something that a lot of people doubted would ever happen. And he told me he would take off his uniform. And I appreciate that, that he kept his word.

I've also said that President Musharraf is a person who has done a lot for Pakistan democracy. And, in my judgment, in order to get Pakistan back on the road to democracy, he's got to suspend the emergency law before elections.

BLITZER: But am I hearing it right? Do you still have a lot of confidence in Pervez Musharraf -- that he will work with you to find Osama bin Laden, who presumably is holed up somewhere along the border with Afghanistan?

BUSH: He has been an absolute reliable partner in dealing with extremists and radicals. And, you know, it's a tough situation in the remote parts of Pakistan, but I -- there's many examples of where the Pakistanis have, in cooperation with the U.S., brought to justice members of Al Qaeda's hierarchy -- and I'm thankful for that.

I also hope that he, you know, enhances Pakistani democracy, and taking off his uniform is a strong first step. And having elections that are out from underneath the emergency law would be a clear signal that he's put Pakistan back on the road.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, but a year ago September, when we spoke up in New York -- you were there for the U.N. General Assembly -- you told me that "absolutely" -- that was your word -- you would authorize U.S. troops to go into Pakistan if you had actionable intelligence on Osama bin Laden's whereabouts or other top-ranking Al Qaeda members.

Is that still your position?

BUSH: Yeah.

BLITZER: Hasn't changed?

BUSH: No, hasn't changed.

BLITZER: Mr. President, thanks very much.

BUSH: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: Good luck.

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