MSNBC's Russert: Is the West ‘Better Off’ With Dictators in Middle East?

Reacting to the announcement from President Obama that the United States will be sending approximately 300 special forces to Iraq in non-combat “advisor” roles, the panel on MSNBC’s The Cycle was skeptical that the move would accomplish anything significant. It’s fair to say that the panel was not exactly erring on the side of more intervention, however.

After reading a quote from Time magazine which pointed out that many dictators in the Middle East have argued that only their oppressive measures could quell the tension between Sunnis and Shiites, guest host Luke Russert asked, “After what's happened in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria, is it fair to say the West was better off with dictators?” [MP3 audio here; video below]

Nikhil Kumar of Time was skeptical of such a declaration, understanding that there are numerous underlying tensions that can exacerbate problems between Sunnis and Shiites. He explained:

there are deep problems which certain setups can exacerbate and certain things you can do to make them better, right? And one of the things that we've seen in Iraq, and just coming back to Iraq again, is as Patrick just said, is that the Maliki government has made those tensions worse.

Although MSNBC is infamous for its political pronouncements of racism against conservatives, no one on the panel thought it patently bigoted for Russert to hint that Middle Easterners are pathologically incapable of living together in a democratic society ordered by the rule of law.

Earlier in the segment, Patrick Murphy a former Democratic congressman and host of MSNBC’s Taking the Hill, asserted that the 300 non-combat special forces Obama will send into Iraq will ultimately see combat, arguing, “And let me tell you something, at night, they're going to get mortared and it's going to be from ISIS and they're going to blend into the community. So they're going to see combat.”

Murphy cited the typical Democratic talking point that the crisis in Iraq does not run much deeper than a political crisis. He criticized the decision to send “300 troops in there and to do it without a precondition on a political solution” as a mistake, because “Maliki is the problem, not the solution.”

The relevant portion of the transcript is below:

MSNBC
The Cycle
June 19, 2014
3:08 p.m. Eastern

TOURE, host: We're talking about 300 advisors going, but no ground troops. And doubtful that air strikes will be happening. What does that do militarily to what's happening over there when the commander in chief says, hey, we are not coming?

PATRICK MURPHY, host of Taking the Hill: Well, it really–you know, Toure, I think most Americans see this and the president said himself, there's no military solution in Iraq. It's a political one. So when you send 300 of our nation's best, the Navy Seals, army rangers, and the green berets, they have a job to do, and they’ll do their job. But they're gonna be in these Iraqi brigade headquarters all throughout Iraq. I was in one ten years ago. And let me tell you something, at night, they're going to get mortared and it's going to be from ISIS and they're going to blend into the community. So they're going to see combat. So to act like we're sending the 300 troops in there and to do it without a precondition on a political solution, I personally believe Maliki is the problem, not the solution. He spoke last night to his people. He should have reached out to the Sunnis. He's now treating them, for years now, and they're coming home to roost. And we should precondition the additional troops and this military support on the political solution on him reaching out to Sunnis or someone else.

LUKE RUSSERT, guest host: Nikhil, I read the story in Time and one line that struck me was “for decades the dictators in the Middle East have warned their democratic patrons in the West that only their oppressive measures could stifle the Shiite/Sunni rivalry.” After what's happened in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria, is it fair to say the West was better off with dictators?

NIKHIL KUMAR, Time: I don't know if you can–I wouldn't say that. But what I would say is this, that there are deep problems which certain setups can exacerbate and certain things you can do to make them better, right? And one of the things that we've seen in Iraq, and just coming back to Iraq again, is as Patrick just said, is that the Maliki government has made those tensions worse. And I think it's important to remember that. Yes, there are deep divisions that go back many, many years, but that none of this is inevitable. This is happening now because somebody has pursued policies in Baghdad that has–that have driven people apart in Iraq. And ISIS went into the Syrian conflict strengthened, and has come back to Iraq to exploit those tensions.

Connor Williams
Connor Williams
Connor Williams is a contributing writer for NewsBusters.