FNC's Rove Highlights Obama's Flip-Flop on Iraq Troop Withdrawal

On Thursday's The O'Reilly Factor, FNC analyst Karl Rove quoted an AP story by Christopher Wills from September 18, 2004, which had reported not only that Barack Obama had previously been open to a U.S. troop increase in Iraq when he was running for Senate, but had warned against a premature troop withdrawal as a "slap in the face to the troops fighting there" which could make Iraq "an extraordinary hotbed of terrorist activity." (Transcripts follow)

After devoting his "Talking Points Memo" to debunking Obama's recent claim that "there was no such thing as Al-Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq," Bill O'Reilly started his interview with Rove by asking why it is "bad strategy for Obama to go out and say that the Bush administration fouled it all up and we need to get out."

Rove began: "To answer that question, I might read the words of a United States Senator," referring to Obama, before quoting from Wills's article, titled "Obama Willing to Support More Troops in Iraq."

Below is the portion of the article quoted by Rove as originally written by Wills:

America cannot afford to withdraw immediately, said Obama, an early opponent of invading Iraq. That would create more chaos in Iraq and make it "an extraordinary hotbed of terrorist activity," he said at a meeting of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association. It would also damage America's international prestige and amount to "a slap in the face" to the troops fighting there, he said.

Wills also reported that Obama, at the time, was open to a temporary increase in the number of troops in Iraq:

Democratic Senate candidate Barack Obama said Saturday he would be willing to send more soldiers to Iraq if it is part of a strategy that the president and military leaders believe will stabilize the country and eventually allow America to withdraw.

"If that strategy made sense and would lead ultimately to the pullout of U.S. troops but in the short term required additional troop strength to protect those who are already on the ground, then that's something I would support," he said.

Rove later questioned Obama's logic in a way the mainstream media have so far failed to do, in response to Obama's assertion that "there was no such thing as Al-Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq." After pointing out that Obama admitted that Al-Qaeda is already in Iraq and that it would be bad if Al-Qaeda gained control, Rove continued:

He has this internal conflict of, saying, okay, I admit they're there, it would be bad if they got control, bad enough that I'd send American troops back, but I want to withdraw them in the meantime. Now, isn't it easier and better to beat them while we're there without allowing them to get control of the country?

Below is a complete transcript of Wills's AP article from September 18, 2004, titled "Obama Willing to Support More Troops in Iraq," followed by the relevant portion of the segment with Rove from the Thursday February 28 The O'Reilly Factor:

From the September 18, 2004 AP:

Democratic Senate candidate Barack Obama said Saturday he would be willing to send more soldiers to Iraq if it is part of a strategy that the president and military leaders believe will stabilize the country and eventually allow America to withdraw.

"If that strategy made sense and would lead ultimately to the pullout of U.S. troops but in the short term required additional troop strength to protect those who are already on the ground, then that's something I would support," he said.

America cannot afford to withdraw immediately, said Obama, an early opponent of invading Iraq.

That would create more chaos in Iraq and make it "an extraordinary hotbed of terrorist activity," he said at a meeting of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association. It would also damage America's international prestige and amount to "a slap in the face" to the troops fighting there, he said.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has accused President Bush of hiding a plan to mobilize more National Guard and Reserve troops after the election. Kerry says if elected, he would withdraw American troops from Iraq within four years - a timetable that Obama said he can accept.

"Given the situation on the ground, I think if we had our troops out in four years, that would be an extraordinary accomplishment," Obama said.

Obama said Bush has bungled the war in Iraq, letting it distract from efforts to hunt down Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida terrorists.

His Republican opponent, Alan Keyes, was scheduled to address the broadcasters group by telephone later in the day.

Keyes has grabbed headlines with a series of controversial statements - comparing terrorists and women who have abortions, for instance, or calling gay people, including the vice president's daughter, "selfish hedonists."

Obama labeled it "slash-and-burn politics" that gets attention but not support from the public.

"I don't think it has worked in terms of actually persuading voters," he said.

From the Thursday February 28 The O'Reilly Factor:

BILL O'REILLY: Now, Mr. Rove, with so many Americans against the Iraq War, why is it a bad strategy for Obama to go out and say that the Bush administration fouled it all up and we need to get out?

KARL ROVE: Well, you know, to answer that question, I might read the words of a United States Senator, who said "pulling out now would make things worse. A quick withdrawal would add to the chaos there and make" Iraq "'an extraordinary hotbed of terrorist activity.'" "It would also damage America's international prestige and amount to a," quote, "'slap in the face to the troops fighting there.'" That was Senator Obama in December of 2004. I think that's a pretty good summary of what would be bad for America if we withdrew from the battlefront and turned the country over possibly into the hands of Al-Qaeda.

O'REILLY: Now, where did Obama say that? What was the context of the remarks?

ROVE: Well, he, it's an AP story. Excuse me, I misspoke. It is September of 2004 as he's running for the United States Senate. And it's an Associated Press story in which he said "he would be willing to send more troops to Iraq if it was part of a strategy that the President and military leaders believe will stabilize the country and eventually allow America to withdraw."

O'REILLY: Okay, so-

ROVE: This is actually, this is actually a, this is actually in a great article that Pete Wayner wrote for commentary that will be out shortly in which he shows this change from 2004 until today on the part of Senator Obama.

O'REILLY: Well, let's be polite this evening and give Senator Obama the benefit of changing his mind, all right? To say, okay, that's what I said in 2004, but now I've evaluated the blood and treasure spent in Iraq. And I feel it isn't worth it. It's better for the country to pull out. See, I'm not debating the policy. I agree with you, and I agree with Senator McCain, you don't snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

ROVE: Right.

O'REILLY: If the surge is working, and the stats say it is, it's working extraordinarily well, you don't go in and say, see you later, and then all chaos blows up. And oil goes to $200 a barrel, which it would if Iran comes back in and fills the vacuum in Iraq that the U.S. leaves. I agree with that policy. I agree with Senator McCain. However, I watched Senator Obama go out there and sell what many millions of Americans perceived as a failed Iraq policy by the Bush administration. And they respond, as you just heard, to him mocking McCain and saying, hey, they sold you this bill of goods, and I'm going to make it all right.

ROVE: Yeah. Look, I, that's fine in front of a highly partisan crowd in a primary. It's another thing in a general election. And he made three critical mistakes in his statement.

First of all, he admitted Al-Qaeda was in Iraq. He admitted it, which to heretofore a lot of Democrats have not been willing to admit, including at times Senator Obama.

Second of all, he admitted that Al-Qaeda, it would be bad if Al-Qaeda were able to gain control of Iraq. He said he would, he would consider it so dangerous, he'd send U.S. troops back.

And third, you know, he has this internal conflict of, saying, okay, I admit they're there, it would be bad if they got control, bad enough that I'd send American troops back, but I want to withdraw them in the meantime. Now, isn't it easier and better to beat them while we're there without allowing them to get control of the country?

O'REILLY: But you parsed his statement a little. He didn't say, he said if it got chaotic and if I saw a threat to the nation, I would send them back.

ROVE: Right, sure.

O'REILLY: He didn't say, see, he's doing this, look, everybody knows Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. It's not Al-Qaeda in Iraq to correct John McCain. It's Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia-

ROVE: Right.

O'REILLY: -is there. And they're in Mosul. And we know that. And they need to be dealt with. And I think both Senators Obama and McCain would agree. But Obama is selling, look, Obama wants to get elected-

ROVE: I disagree with that.

O'REILLY: Go ahead.

ROVE: I disagree with that. Senator Obama would say I want the U.S. troops out regardless of whether or not we take care of Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia and Mosul, or anywhere else in the country.

O'REILLY: Then why did he say, why would then he say I'll send them back if it becomes a chaotic situation?

ROVE: That's my point. It's internally inconsistent. You cannot say I am so determined to get them out, I don't care what the conditions are on the ground. But if it really gets bad, and Al-Qaeda establishes a base in Iraq, I will go back. I mean, it is internally inconsistent. It is better for us to stay and continue the fine work that has been done since the surge began, and defeat them, than it is to let it all go down and suffer the decline in prestige that he talked about in 2004-

O'REILLY: Well, I'm just worried about the economics of it all.

ROVE: -and suffer, it would be the slap in the face.