Opening NBC's Nightly News on Wednesday, anchor Brian Williams touted the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq as an Obama administration accomplishment while slamming the war effort itself: "The President promised they'd be out by New Year's Eve and here they come....The war started with the event somebody called 'shock and awe' and it became a tragic and prolonged slog."
In the report that followed, White House correspondent Kristen Welker announced: "Mr. Obama has opposed the war since his days as a state senator. And today he said it's harder to end a war than to begin one....The President, facing a tough re-election battle, did not declare victory in Iraq, but has called the withdrawal a campaign promise kept."
Welker did include a sound bite from Arizona Senator John McCain condemning the complete troop pullout: "I believe that history will judge this president's leadership with a scorn and disdain that it deserves." However, she quickly cited a soldier supporting the decision: "But for soldiers like Jesse Lucas who served three tours in Iraq, today is a moment of celebration."
Welker wrapped up her report by highlighting the President using the occasion to attack Congress: "Now, President Obama also had a message for Congress today. He told the crowd that Washington could learn from the troops and their ability to work together."
Following Welker's report, chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel described the growing dominance of Iran in Iraq: "The United States toppled a dictator who's been replaced by a Shiite government with close ties to Iran. It's hard to imagine how that was ever part of the plan." Engel failed to hold Obama accountable for leaving Iraq in that precarious situation without any contingent of U.S. troops to defend against Iran's encroachment.
Engel quoted a Sunni cloth merchant in Fallujah who condemned the U.S. for overthrowing Saddam Hussein's regime: "You crossed thousands of miles from America. Why? If you want the oil, take the oil. If you want our money, take it. But you have destroyed life. The whole system." Engel concluded: "U.S. troops are ending their war in Iraq but this country is still at war with itself."
Here is a full transcript of Welker's December 14 report:
7:00PM ET TEASE:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: On our broadcast tonight, welcome home. Words of thanks from the President tonight for Americans who served in Iraq. Also this evening, our own Richard Engel tells us what it's like on the ground there now.
7:01PM ET SEGMENT:
WILLIAMS: The President promised they'd be out by New Year's Eve and here they come. American men and women in uniform are coming home after nine years, 4,500 lives lost, and tens of thousands of injuries. And staggering sacrifice here at home all the while. The war started with the event somebody called "shock and awe" and it became a tragic and prolonged slog. The U.S. and allied troops fought bravely. Iraqi civilians suffered terribly.
Now the fighting phase comes to an end, though far from a storybook ending. The President marked the occasion today with those in uniform who are just back from there and NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker starts us off tonight. Kristen, good evening.
KRISTEN WELKER: Good evening to you, Brian. Well, President Obama struck a reflective tone today when he addressed a crowd of returning war veterans. Mr. Obama has opposed the war since his days as a state senator. And today he said it's harder to end a war than to begin one.
BARACK OBAMA: Hello, Ft. Bragg!
WELKER: Appearing before a sea of service members at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, the President and First Lady marked a pivotal moment in the nation's history. After nine years in Iraq, all the troops are returning.
OBAMA: Welcome home.
[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]
OBAMA: Welcome home. Welcome home.
WELKER: The speech, a tribute to the 1.5 million Americans who served and the nearly 4,500 who gave their lives.
OBAMA: Hard work and sacrifice. Those words only begin to describe the costs of this war.
WELKER: The President, facing a tough re-election battle, did not declare victory in Iraq, but has called the withdrawal a campaign promise kept.
OBAMA: We are ending a war, not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home.
WELKER: But back in Washington, his former opponent, John McCain, said the withdrawal is purely political.
JOHN MCCAIN: I believe that history will judge this president's leadership with a scorn and disdain that it deserves.
WELKER: But for soldiers like Jesse Lucas who served three tours in Iraq, today is a moment of celebration.
JESSE LUCAS: It makes me proud that we did our job over there. The President's getting us home because we pretty much had it taken care of. You know, the Iraqis can handle themselves over there now.
WELKER: Now, President Obama also had a message for Congress today. He told the crowd that Washington could learn from the troops and their ability to work together. All of the troops will be out of Iraq by the new year. Brian.
WILLIAMS: Kristen Welker at the White House starting us off tonight. Kristen, thanks.