While ignoring Bush's inconsistent statements on the issue, Fox's Wallace allowed Bush to distort Obama's Pakistan remark
Research ››› ››› KATHLEEN HENEHAN
During a Fox News Sunday interview with President Bush, Chris Wallace left unchallenged Bush's statement regarding Sen. Barack Obama: "I certainly don't know what he believes in. The only foreign policy thing I remember he said was he's going to attack Pakistan and embrace [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad." But Bush and his administration have made contradictory statements on the question of dealing with Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, the specific issue that Bush purported to know where Obama stands. Wallace also did not note Bush misrepresented Obama's statements regarding Pakistan and engaging in dialogue with Ahmadinejad.
During an interview on the February 10 edition of Fox News Sunday, President Bush said to host Chris Wallace regarding Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (IL): "I certainly don't know what he believes in. The only foreign policy thing I remember he said was he's going to attack Pakistan and embrace [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad." Wallace did not challenge the statement in any way, even though Bush himself has made contradictory statements on the question of dealing with leading members of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, the specific issue that Bush purported to know where Obama stands. Moreover, Bush misrepresented Obama's statements on that specific issue and smeared Obama by falsely claiming he said "he's going to ... embrace Ahmadinejad."
Wallace also neglected to mention that other "foreign policy" issues Obama has discussed that Bush might "remember" are Obama's proposals to begin to withdraw troops from Iraq and "redeploy at least two combat brigades" for counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan.
Within a span of five days, Bush said both that he would and that he would not go after Al Qaeda in Pakistan without the permission of the Pakistani government. On September 20, 2006, Bush said to CNN host Wolf Blitzer that he would "[a]bsolutely" order U.S. troops into sovereign Pakistani territory "to bring [Osama bin Laden] to justice." Bush reaffirmed that position on November 28, 2007, during another interview with Bush. Blitzer asked: "[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."
Yet during a September 15, 2006, press conference -- five days before his 2006 interview with Blitzer -- Bush ruled out "sending special forces to Pakistan to hunt down [Osama] bin Laden" in part because "Pakistan is a sovereign nation." Additionally, on August 1, 2007, 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." During an August 9, 2007, press conference Bush declined to say whether he agreed with Obama's August 1 statement that "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will":
Q: Sir, on Monday, at Camp David, when you met with President Karzai from Afghanistan, you were asked if you had actionable intelligence in Pakistan of top al Qaeda leaders; would you take action unilaterally, if in fact you felt that President Musharraf simply, for one reason or another, just simply couldn't get his people there in time, would you move in? And you said, if we had actionable -- good, actionable intelligence, we would get the job done.
My question, one, is, who is "we"? Does that we include the Pakistanis, or -- because the question says, Musharraf wouldn't be able to be in -- would you do it unilaterally? And one reason this is a hot question this week is that one of the Democratic presidential candidates, Barack Obama, talked about taking unilateral action. He kind of got beaten up by people in the Democratic Party, and by Mitt Romney in your party, Romney comparing him to Dr. Strangelove. I don't know if you would agree with that, or if you would feel --
THE PRESIDENT: John, I suspect that over the course of the next months, when I hold a press conference, you'll be trying to get me to engage in presidential politics; trying to get me to opine about what candidates are saying, whether they be Republicans or Democrats. And hopefully I'll be disciplined enough not to fall prey to your question, not to fall into that trap.
To the question you asked, and to my answer in Camp David, I said I'm confident that we -- both the Paks and the Americans -- will be able to work up a plan, based upon actionable intelligence, that will bring the top al Qaeda targets to justice. I meant what I said. We spend a lot of time with the leadership in Pakistan, talking about what we will do with actionable intelligence. And the question was, am I confident that they will be brought to justice, and my answer to you is, yes, I am confident.
Additionally, Obama has not said that "he's going to attack Pakistan and embrace Ahmadinejad," as Bush asserted; he said he would "act" if Musharraf didn't -- making actions conditional, not, as Bush claimed, definite -- and he did not specify what actions he would take.
Nor has Obama said he would "embrace Ahmadinejad," as Bush stated. During the July 23, 2007, Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina, a participant asked the candidates:
QUESTION: In 1982, Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel, a trip that resulted in a peace agreement that has lasted ever since. In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?
OBAMA: I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them -- which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration -- is ridiculous.
Now, Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire. And the reason is because they understood that we may not trust them and they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we had the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward.
And I think that it is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them. We've been talking about Iraq -- one of the first things that I would do in terms of moving a diplomatic effort in the region forward is to send a signal that we need to talk to Iran and Syria because they're going to have responsibilities if Iraq collapses.
They have been acting irresponsibly up until this point. But if we tell them that we are not going to be a permanent occupying force, we are in a position to say that they are going to have to carry some weight, in terms of stabilizing the region.
As a February 11 Washington Post article on Bush's comments summarized: "Obama said he would be willing to meet with rogue leaders such as Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to talk through differences, but he did not embrace him."
From the February 10 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
BUSH: If the Democrat Party feels like they can win an election by focusing on me, I think they'll be making a huge tactical mistake, but I hope they do that, then, because our candidate will be able to talk about the future and what this person intends to do for the country.
WALLACE: Do you think there's a rush to judgment about Barack Obama? Do you think voters know enough about him?
BUSH: I certainly don't know what he believes in. The only foreign policy thing I remember he said was he's going to attack Pakistan and embrace Ahmadinejad, which -- I think I commented that in a press conference when I was asked about it.
WALLACE: I hope not. But so you don't -- you don't think that we know enough about him or what he stands for?
BUSH: Doesn't seem like it to me, but this campaign has plenty of time for candidates to get defined. He is yet his party's nominee.
WALLACE: So, why do you think he's gotten this far if people don't know what he stands for?
BUSH: You're the pundit. I'm just a simple president.