Echoing Bush on legacy tour, NPR's Liasson says Iraq war "pretty manageable, if not almost won"

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN & NATHAN TABAK

On Special Report, Mara Liasson said of President Bush's handling of the Iraq war, "I think that history will judge him pretty kindly," but made no mention of the ongoing debate over whether the United States should have initiated the war in the first place or whether it has been worth the cost in lives, money, and diverted attention and resources. She also described Bush as "handing over a war that's pretty manageable, if not almost won, to his successor." Liasson's words closely tracked Bush's own recent descriptions of progress in Iraq, as he has repeatedly discussed the legacy of his presidency.

On the December 15 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Fox News contributor and NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson said of President George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq war, "I think that history will judge him pretty kindly," and said that Bush leaves "a war that's pretty manageable, if not almost won, to his successor." Liasson made the comments while discussing the Iraqi reporter who threw his shoes at Bush during a December 14 press conference in Baghdad. Liasson's comments echoed those made by conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer's moments earlier, in which Krauthammer asserted that Bush was "the hero of the surge" who is now "handing over to his successor basically a war that's just about won." Liasson's words also closely tracked Bush's own recent descriptions of progress in Iraq, as he has repeatedly discussed the legacy of his presidency, ignoring or dismissing criticism of the conduct of the invasion and occupation.

Liasson said of Bush's legacy in Iraq: "He can't catch break on Iraq, even though over time, I think that history will judge him pretty kindly. He corrected the mistakes. He had a terrible beginning in Iraq -- well, he had a great beginning and a terrible middle, I guess, but he is handing over a war that's pretty manageable, if not almost won, to his successor." In asserting that Bush "had a great beginning" in Iraq, Liasson did not mention the false premises under which the United States went to war in the first place or the failure on the part of the Bush administration to plan for the aftermath of the invasion. She did not mention the widespread looting, the dissolution of the Iraqi army without accounting for weapons, and the failure to secure stores of military equipment -- including explosives -- that occurred early in the war. Moreover, in suggesting "history will judge him pretty kindly," Liasson made no mention of the ongoing debate over whether the United States should have initiated the war in the first place or whether it has been worth the cost in lives, money, and diverted attention and resources.

The White House reportedly has issued "talking points" on the Bush legacy that avoid mention of these and other criticisms of the administration. The Los Angeles Times reported on December 9 that a "two-page memo that has been sent to Cabinet members and other high-ranking officials offers a guide for discussing Bush's eight-year tenure during their public speeches." According to the Times, the memo, among other things, "presents the Bush record as an unalloyed success" and "mentions none of the episodes that detractors say have marred his presidency: the collapse of the housing market and major financial services companies, the flawed intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war, the federal response to Hurricane Katrina or the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib."

In several recent public appearances and interviews, Bush has discussed his Iraq legacy by asserting that the war has been "longer and more difficult than expected," but that due to the surge, "we began to bring our troops home under a policy of return on success." For instance, in a December 9 speech at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, Bush said of his Iraq legacy:

We also took a hard look at the danger posed by Iraq -- a country that combined support for terror, the development and the use of weapons of mass destruction, violence against its own people, aggression against its neighbors, hostility to the United States, and systematic violation of United Nations resolutions. After seeing the destruction of September the 11th, we concluded that America could not afford to allow a regime with such a threatening and violent record to remain in the heart of the Middle East. So we offered Saddam Hussein a final chance to peacefully resolve the issue. And when he refused, we acted with a coalition of nations to protect our people -- and liberated 25 million Iraqis.

The battle in Iraq has been longer and more difficult than expected. Foreign terrorists, former regime elements, and Iraqi insurgents -- often with outside support -- combined to drive up violence, and bring the country to the verge of chaos. So we adopted a new strategy, and rather than retreating, sent more troops into Baghdad in Iraq. And when the surge met its objective, we began to bring our troops home under a policy of return on success. Last week, Iraq approved two agreements that formalize diplomatic and economic and security ties with America -- and set a framework for the drawdown of American forces as the fight in Iraq nears a successful end.

Bush expressed similar sentiment during a December 14 interview with ABC News chief White House correspondent Martha Raddatz, portions of which aired during the December 15 edition of ABC News' World News. During the interview, Raddatz asked, "During these years, did you imagine it would -- the war would go the way it went, first of all, and that you'd be sitting here today with -- signing a Status of Forces Agreement?" Bush responded:

Well, first of all, it's taken longer than we had hoped, and it is more expensive than we had hoped, and so, in one way, you know, I guess I -- I was -- it didn't meet expectations. However, I am pleased that we are now in a position to have signed these agreements, because it's a signal of success.

But there were some pretty tough moments -- and you know better than anybody because you covered them during 2006. And I had a tough call to make and that was whether or not to pull back and hope that the chaos didn't spread beyond certain parts of Iraq and beyond the borders of Iraq, or send more troops in, in order to achieve victory, and I chose the latter. And the signing of these agreements, the Strategic Forces Agreement [sic] and the SOFA is -- I mean, the Strategic Framework Agreement and the SOFA is a sign of success. I was asked, "Does this mean, you know, you're taking a victory lap?" No, it means that this is a stable platform to continue forward.

Similarly, Bush stated during his December 14 appearance at the Camp Victory U.S. military base in Baghdad, "Two years ago, the situation [in Iraq] had grown dire -- the political process was frozen and sectarian violence was spiraling out of control." Bush continued, saying, "Many said the mission was hopeless; many called for retreat. Retreat would have meant failure -- and failure is never an option." He added: "So instead of pulling troops out, we sent more troops in -- called the surge. And because of you and because of your courage, the surge is one of the greatest successes in the history of the United States military."

From the December 15 broadcast of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

BRIT HUME (host): And the president would go on to say later that he saw into the man's "sole."

We promise you, folks, that's the last time we will show you that on this broadcast. We think it -- I thought it was impossible yesterday to show that too often. I was quickly proved wrong watching television today. So that's the end of it for the moment. But it was an interesting episode. And -- and what a -- what a end point for the president and his adventures with and in Iraq. Your thoughts, Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, he handled himself graciously, but he can't catch a break on Iraq. Here he was for the victory lap -- and it was a victory. He was the hero of the surge. He's the guy who went ahead and ordered it against all advice, all political pressure. And he succeeded, and he's handing over to his successor basically a war that's just about won.

And here he is signing a major agreement, making Iraq an ally of the United States that began under Saddam Hussein as a true enemy and a destabilizer in the region. And in the middle of it you get a cinematic moment. Because it's so telegenic, it's gonna be what's remembered.

But, look, the guy who threw it spoke for two factions in Iraq -- the extreme Shiites and the extreme Sunnis who oppose the U.S., who hate the United States. He apparently is a Shia but was picked up and tortured by a Shia militia once; picked up, arrested by Americans -- a murky history.

But the fact is that in the parliament, elected, speaking on behalf of the real Iraqis, the support for the pact with the United States was overwhelming. And the Shiite extremists and the Sunni extremists are marginalized.

What we really have here is success. And all of the braying among the Arab intellectuals about how he represented -- the guy who threw the shoe -- how he represented Arab opinion I think is a phony. There is a long history of the Arab street hate -- hating Americans. On 9-11, there was dancing in the street in the Palestinian territories.

HUME: And ululating and -- yeah.

KRAUTHAMMER: Exactly, and it's not to be taken seriously. What's really important is what Iraq leadership and parliament has done, and that's to cement an alliance with the United States.

LIASSON: Well, I agree with Charles. I mean, it was unfortunate. It's a really indelible image. And, actually, I thought the president like -- didn't just handle it well, I mean, he was -- he practically was laughing, and he had great reflexes.

But I agree. He can't catch break on Iraq, even though over time, I think that history will judge him pretty kindly. He corrected the mistakes. He had a terrible beginning in Iraq -- well, he had a great beginning and a terrible middle, I guess. But he is handing over a war that's pretty manageable, if not almost won, to his successor.

FRED BARNES (Weekly Standard executive editor): You know, he did, I agree with that. But I'm afraid he's going to be dogged by this -- by this shoe throwing that you're not gonna show again, at least over the next minute or two.

HUME: At least not tonight.

BARNES: Not tonight, but it's just always gonna be around, and it's gonna harm him.

From Raddatz's December 14 ABC News interview with Bush:

RADDATZ: Your last trip to the region as president, your last trip to Iraq -- surely, your legacy will be largely about this war. Talk to me about how that feels being here, the last trip --

BUSH: Yeah.

RADDATZ: -- and what you really think that legacy will be.

BUSH: Clearly, one of the most important parts of my job, because of 9-11 was to defend the security of the American people. There have been no attacks since I've been the president -- since 9-11. One of the major theatres against Al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq. This is where Al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand. This is where Al Qaeda was hoping to take it.

RADDATZ: But not until after the U.S. invaded.

BUSH: Yeah, that's right.

RADDATZ: So --

BUSH: So, what?

RADDATZ: So were you --

BUSH: I mean, the point is, is that Iraq -- Al Qaeda said they were going to take a stand. Well, first of all, in the post-11 environment, Saddam Hussein posed a threat, and then upon removal, Al Qaeda decides to take a stand and they're getting -- they're becoming defeated. And I think history will say that, one, the world was better off without Saddam; two, along with the Iraqi troops, we have denied Al Qaeda a safe haven because a young democracy is beginning to grow, which will be an important sign for people in the Middle East and --

RADDATZ: But you're -- let me just go back because you brought this up. You said Saddam Hussein posed a threat in the post-9-11 world.

BUSH: He did.

RADDATZ: They didn't find weapons of mass destruction.

BUSH: That's true. They didn't. Everybody thought he had them.

RADDATZ: So what threat? And if --

BUSH: Well, Saddam Hussein was a sworn enemy of the United States. He'd been enriched by oil revenues. He was a sponsor of terror. I have never claimed, like someone said, that he, you know, was directly involved with the attacks on 9-11, but he did support terrorists. And Saddam Hussein had the capability of making weapons of mass destruction. I didn't have the luxury of knowing he did not have them, neither did the rest of the world until after we had come and removed him. And finally --

RADDATZ: So would you have gone in anyway?

BUSH: And finally -- excuse me for a minute. And finally, we gave Saddam Hussein a peaceful way out. It was his choice. And when he refused to allow for inspections, when he refused to disclose or disarm, then a large coalition of troops took him out. And now the question is: Are we going to stay in and help this young democracy thrive?

What happened was, after Saddam leaves, Al Qaeda says, "This is a second front in the war on terror" -- and I take the words of a terrorist leader seriously. And so, we have worked with the Iraqis to try to help their democracy grow and thrive, and at the same time, eliminate Al Qaeda safe havens.

RADDATZ: During these years, did you imagine it would -- the war would go the way it went, first of all, and that you'd be sitting here today with -- signing a Status of Forces Agreement?

BUSH: Well, first of all, it's taken longer than we had hoped, and it is more expensive than we had hoped, and so, in one way, you know, I guess I -- I was -- it didn't meet expectations. However, I am pleased that we are now in a position to have signed these agreements, because it's a signal of success.

But there were some pretty tough moments -- and you know better than anybody because you covered them during 2006. And I had a tough call to make and that was whether or not to pull back and hope that the chaos didn't spread beyond certain parts of Iraq and beyond the borders of Iraq, or send more troops in, in order to achieve victory, and I chose the latter. And the signing of these agreements, the Strategic Forces Agreement [sic] and the SOFA is -- I mean, the Strategic Framework Agreement and the SOFA is a sign of success. I was asked, "Does this mean, you know, you're taking a victory lap?" No, it means that this is a stable platform to continue forward.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Person
Mara Liasson
Show/Publication
Special Report with Brit Hume
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