Olbermann Mocks Bush Preemptive War Doctrine as Insane, America as "Empire"

On Thursday night's Countdown show, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann characterized the logic of the White House's newly released National Security Strategy as insane by comparing its architects to individuals who fail the sanity test: "Does the individual continue to take action A and continue to get result B, while insisting that next time he will get result Z?" Referring to the Bush administration as "the forces that got us into Iraq," Olbermann declared that they are "still expecting to get result Z." After reading from the strategy, the Countdown host snidely quipped, "Actually finding WMD, result Z, is apparently beside the point."

Olbermann, who routinely signs off his Countdown show on an anti-war note by recounting the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq "since the declaration of mission accomplished," teased Thursday's show by summarizing the Bush policy of preemptive war as: "We can start it in order to keep somebody else from starting it." While showing footage of the aftermath of a bombing in Iraq, he sarcastically added, "Well, after all, it has worked so well in Iraq." Notably, while Olbermann later interviewed Time magazine's Michael Duffy, someone thought it was a good idea to display the words "The Empire Strikes Back" at the bottom of the screen, presumably referring to America's airstrikes in Iraq, during their discussion. (Transcript follows.)

The Countdown host opened the show: "Good evening. The simplest test of sanity, the initial screen for misperceived existence, the 'follow-my-finger' of psychology: Does the individual continue to take action A and continue to get result B, while insisting that next time he will get result Z? Our fifth story on the Countdown, the Bush Doctrine. Preemptive war or, if you prefer, preventive war, is back and better than ever tonight. While U.S. forces in Iraq launch a major new air assault, the forces that got us into Iraq have declared anew that they're still expecting to get result Z."

Olbermann also found time to challenge Scott McClellan's claim that the President did not personally order the current offensive of airstrikes in Iraq, while merely being briefed by commanders, a claim which Olbermann referred to as "further twists of logic." After showing a clip of an exchange between McClellan and NBC's David Gregory while they were discussing the topic, the Countdown host then brought aboard Michael Duffy of Time magazine for further discussion. During the entire interview with Duffy, the words "The Empire Strikes Back," presumably referring to America's airstrikes in Iraq, were displayed at the bottom of the screen.

Olbermann opened his interview with Duffy by wondering: "If this is a standard operating procedure, commanders in the field operating separately from the White House, does it still politically make the President look less than informed when the press secretary has to sort of tapdance around this question did the President know about this in advance?"

Duffy disagreed with Olbermann's fascination with this topic: "Well, I don't think so. I think Bush has always been, President Bush has always been pretty clear that he lets the commanders in the field do what they want. In fact, he's given those guys even more authority than they might have had in the previous administration. And he's kind of always been this way, so I don't really think this is a problem for them."

Returning to the subject of the newly released National Security Strategy, Olbermann again sought to discredit it by bringing up the failure to find WMD in Iraq: "To the updated version of the National Security Strategy document, giving no ground on the idea of preemptive war and claiming the logic of preemption is finding WMD before WMD can be used against us. Maybe I'm mis-remembering this, but I thought we did not find any WMD in Iraq. Does the White House address the logic of that?"

After steering the discussion toward what the report says about Iran and North Korea, Olbermann ended his interview seeking reassurance for "those who are worried by ... the idea of preventive or preemptive war": "Lastly, amid the handwringing here, for those who are worried by the restatement of this, of the idea of preventive or preemptive war, this document is not legally binding, is it? I mean, it doesn't come with additional freeze-dried military personnel, the ones who would be required to launch the preemptive actions while nearly all of the current personnel are still tied up in Iraq, right?"

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the March 16 Countdown show:

Keith Olbermann, in opening teaser: "Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? Preventive war, preemptive war: The Bush Doctrine of September 2002. 'We can start it in order to keep somebody else from starting it,' restated today as the official policy of this country. [shows aftermath of bombing in Iraq] Well, after all, it has worked so well in Iraq."

Olbermann: "Punctuating the policy: The biggest air assault in Iraq since mid-April 2003, and the President knew about it in advance, right?"

David Gregory, NBC News: "He was told after the decision had been made to do it? Or did he have to say, 'Yes, let's do this'?"

Scott McClellan, White House Press Secretary: "No, this was not something that he needed to authorize."

Olbermann soon opened the show: "Good evening. The simplest test of sanity, the initial screen for misperceived existence, the 'follow-my-finger' of psychology: Does the individual continue to take action A and continue to get result B, while insisting that next time he will get result Z? Our fifth story on the Countdown, the Bush Doctrine. Preemptive war or, if you prefer, preventive war, is back and better than ever tonight. While U.S. forces in Iraq launch a major new air assault, the forces that got us into Iraq have declared anew that they're still expecting to get result Z. Early today, the Bush White House unveiling its justification for preemptive attacks, a 49-page document titled, 'The National Security Strategy of the United States of America.' This edition looking remarkably like its September 2002 predecessor. The administration once again making no apologies for its aggressive strategy of attacking the enemy before the enemy attacks the U.S. Quoting it: 'When the consequences of an attack with WMD are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize. This is the principle and logic of preemption.' Actually finding WMD, result Z, is apparently beside the point."

Olbermann: "But the administration seemingly has found a new approach for stopping the sectarian violence on the ground in Iraq that has claimed more than 500 lives there in the last three weeks. A massive operation involving some 1500 troops, about half of them Iraqi, supported by more than 50 helicopters. The Pentagon handing out this video of the assault, all of it shot by Army cameramen. The White House today in further twists of logic claiming that while the President was fully briefed about the assault, he did not, repeat, did not authorize it."

David Gregory: "Are you saying that the President did not specifically authorize this?"

Scott McClellan: "No, he knows about the operation, and he's been briefed on it, but this is a decision that is made by commanders who are in the best position to make the tactical decisions about the operations that are undertaken."

Gregory: "Therefore he didn't have to give the go-ahead order, and he was told after the fact."

McClellan: "We want to see, we want to see a successful operation, and we look forward to a successful operation."

Gregory: "Could you just clarify that point, that he was told after the decision had been made to do it, or did he have to say, 'Yes, let's do this?'"

McClellan: "No, this was not something that he needed to authorize."

Olbermann: "Well, that certainly clears things up. In a moment, the military nuts and bolts of what the Pentagon is calling Operation Swarmer, with analyst Dan Goure. First, here to bring clarity to some of the political questions about today's developments, let's call in Time magazine assistant managing editor Michael Duffy. Thanks for joining us again, sir."

Michael Duffy, Time magazine: "Nice to be here, Keith."

Olbermann: "If this is a standard operating procedure, commanders in the field operating separately from the White House, does it still politically make the President look less than informed when the press secretary has to sort of tapdance around this question did the President know about this in advance?"

Duffy: "Well, I don't think so. I think Bush has always been, President Bush has always been pretty clear that he lets the commanders in the field do what they want. In fact, he's given those guys even more authority than they might have had in the previous administration. And he's kind of always been this way, so I don't really think this is a problem for them. I think, you know, President Bartlett on West Wing is always making those decisions, I know, but I don't think President Bush has ever made a big deal out of it, so this is kind of a standard operating procedure for them."

Olbermann: "President Bartlett got cancelled. To the updated version of the National Security Strategy document, giving no ground on the idea of preemptive war and claiming the logic of preemption is finding WMD before WMD can be used against us. Maybe I'm mis-remembering this, but I thought we did not find any WMD in Iraq. Does the White House address the logic of that?"

Duffy: "No, in the document, which is 49 pages long, it talks about Iraq simply as a case going forward and a country that's trying to be put back together on democratic terms. I thought this strategy was a little more defensive than the one a couple of years ago. It's much longer. It reads much more like a report card. It says look at what we've done, see how this is working. It has a much more defensive feel. But on WMD, it really does focus on Korea and Iran and terrorists, but it doesn't talk about Iraq."

After discussing what the report had to say about Iran and North Korea, Olbermann asked his final question of the interview:

Olbermann: "Lastly, amid the handwringing here, for those who are worried by the restatement of this, of the idea of preventive or preemptive war, this document is not legally binding, is it? I mean, it doesn't come with additional freeze-dried military personnel, the ones who would be required to launch the preemptive actions while nearly all of the current personnel are still tied up in Iraq, right?"

Duffy: "Right, if you were doing a ground invasion, yeah, you would need ground troops, and we don't have a lot of extras. If you're doing something by air, though, you probably would have those kind of forces available, but no, it's not a binding document, it's a strategy. It's not a tactical document. It's something Congress required them to write. But, as I say, I do think it feels a bit more defensive than that thing they wrote four years ago in the aftermath of the Afghanistan invasion."

Olbermann: "Different set of circumstances, indeed. Time magazine's Michael Duffy, great thanks for your insight and your time tonight, sir."