NBC Tries to Immunize Obama from Criticism After Bombings in Iraq

On Thursday, as NBC's Today show covered the eruption of more than a dozen bombings in Iraq just days after the pullout of U.S. troops, correspondent Richard Engel argued against the view that the Obama administration should have been more effective in negotiating an agreement with the Iraqi government for an extended U.S. troop presence which might have helped ward off such attacks. (Video below)

As Engel appeared on set, co-anchor Ann Curry posed:

 

Let's talk about that because the U.S. troops left just days ago. ... and you reported extensively about that. The U.S. really did not have a choice but to leave because they were essentially kicked out.

Engel complained about arguments he has heard criticizing the recent pullout of U.S. troops:

This, I've seen this debate from afar, and I've often listened to it when I'm waiting to come on live shots, and some of your guests will say, well, if we'd stayed in Iraq this wouldn't have happened. We did not have a choice to stay in Iraq. The Iraqis threw us out.

First, there were supposed to be 20,000 American troops. That was unacceptable to the Iraqis. Then 10,000. Then 5,000. Then 3,000 who were going to be staying without immunity. So that really was no option. This is a false debate. The U.S. was leaving. The Iraqis wanted us out, and now they are fighting again over the real character of this country.
 

Ignoring the argument that even a small troop presence might have sent a message of American commitment to Iraq, Engel concluded: "And I don't know if that, if the 3,000 American troops who were going to be there without immunity who weren't wanted anyway, I don't think they were going to stop that."

Below is a complete transcript of the relevant segment of the Thursday, December 22, Today show on NBC:

CARL QUINTANILLA: But we begin with that breaking news, a deadly wave of violence in Baghdad overnight. NBC's chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is here with some details. Fill us in first on what happened, Richard.

RICHARD ENGEL: There was a series of bombings, many of them car bombings. In one case, there was a suicide bomber in an ambulance. All these attacks were in Shiite districts. And that's the key takeaway here. This was a sectarian attack. It was designed to undermine the government, and I think we're going to see a lot more of these.

ANN CURRY: Okay, well, let's talk about that because the U.S. troops left just days ago.

ENGEL: I was there.

CURRY: I know you were, and you reported extensively about that. The U.S. really did not have a choice but to leave because they were essentially kicked out.

ENGEL: This, I've seen this debate from afar, and I've often listened to it when I'm waiting to come on live shots, and some of your guests will say, well, if we'd stayed in Iraq this wouldn't have happened. We did not have a choice to stay in Iraq. The Iraqis threw us out.

First, there were supposed to be 20,000 American troops. That was unacceptable to the Iraqis. Then 10,000. Then 5,000. Then 3,000 who were going to be staying without immunity. So that really was no option. This is a false debate. The U.S. was leaving. The Iraqis wanted us out, and now they are fighting again over the real character of this country.

CARL QUINTANILLA: You can already hear the critics using this attack to say that the U.S. left too soon, no?

ENGEL: I think you can use - I don't know how you can claim credit for Iraq, for anything in any way. What you have is there's violence has once again started. Now if you want to say, well, this is a result of us pulling out or us going in, there was a civil war in Iraq from 2006 to 2007. The surge slowed it down, almost stopped it. Now, U.S. troops left just a few days ago, and they're starting to fight again. And it goes back to a basic problem in Iraq. For 1,400 years Sunnis ruled the country. There's two groups in Iraq, Sunnis and Shiites. For 1,400 years Sunnis ran the country.

Saddam Hussein was a Sunni. The United States toppled the Sunni regime and put in a Shiite government. That's who's running the country now, and the Sunnis don't like it and are carrying out bomb attacks. And I don't know if that, if the 3,000 American troops who were going to be there without immunity who weren't wanted anyway, I don't think they were going to stop that.

CURRY: Richard Engel, your perspective always valuable. Thank you so much for getting up early on this breaking story.