Feb 28 2008

On NBC, ‘Expertise’ Means Getting Iraq Wrong

In the February 26 Democratic primary debate, sponsored by MSNBC, NBC anchor Brian Williams questioned Democratic hopeful Barack Obama about his fitness to compete in a presidential race, with the “vast foreign policy expertise and credibility on national security” of Sen. John McCain.

Obama’s rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, “has compared your foreign policy expertise to that of George W. Bush at the same period,” Williams said. “Provided you could be going into a general election against a Republican with vast foreign policy expertise and credibility on national security, how were her comments about you unfair?”

Yet on what most would call the most important recent issue of “national security”–Iraq–McCain was stupendously wrong.

In a pre-invasion interview on CNN (Late Edition, 11/29/02), McCain stated:

We’re not going to get into house-to-house fighting in Baghdad. We may have to take out buildings, but we’re not going to have a bloodletting of trading American bodies for Iraqi bodies.

He added, “I don’t think it’s, quote, ‘easy,’ but I believe that we can win an overwhelming victory in a very short period of time.” On MSNBC (Hardball, 3/24/03), he stated that “we will be welcomed as liberators.”

In contrast, Obama made a prominent speech around the same time (10/2/02) that now seems strikingly prescient:

But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al-Qaeda.

The assumption of Williams’ question is that the candidate who was completely wrong about the Iraq invasion has “vast expertise” and “credibility” on national security, while the candidate who correctly foresaw the consequences needs to prove his foreign policy qualifications. One wonders whether Williams is using “expertise” as a synonym for “hawkishness.”


Please write to Brian Williams and remind him that expertise and hawkishness aren’t the same thing.


NBC Anchor Brian Williams

Phone: 212-664-4971

Email: nightly@nbc.com