Scarborough Shows Hypocrisy On Criticizing Presidential Foreign Policy During Crises

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough got rather self-righteous on Wednesday’s Morning Joe, chiding Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and others who have criticized President Obama’s weak-kneed response to the crisis in Ukraine.

Scarborough asserted his belief that “politics should really end at the water's edge” during international crises like this, proclaiming,  “I'm old-fashioned enough to believe that harshly criticizing the commander-in-chief during dangerous international crises, whether it’s with the likes of Saddam Hussein or Vladimir Putin, well, that provides comfort to nation-states who choose to be our enemies.”


So Joe doesn’t like it when people harshly criticize the president during international crises? Well, maybe it would have been better if Graham had veiled his criticism by taking a shot at the George W. Bush administration in addition to Obama. That is exactly what Scarborough did – yesterday.

That’s right. On Tuesday’s Morning Joe, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg speculated that Russian president Vladimir Putin sees the West as weak and unwilling to forestall his ambitions. Scarborough agreed, saying, “That’s the message of what’s happened in Syria over the past several years. We draw lines in the sand and one line after another gets crossed over.”

That sounds like a criticism of President Obama. But then the host went and dragged former president Bush into the mix as well. He recalled how the Bush administration drew lines in the sand for Iran, only to have the Iranians cross them. Scarborough concluded, “We’ve been feckless towards Iran, towards Syria and it’s sent a really strong message to Putin.

Feckless? That’s the same word Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) used recently to blast Obama’s foreign policy. Scarborough’s words amount to a pretty harsh criticism of the president, albeit a criticism shrouded in a bipartisan attack. But he didn’t leave his politics at the water’s edge. He provided comfort to nation-states who choose to be our enemies.

Apparently Scarborough thinks he is exempted from his own “quaint notion” that leaders should not criticize the president during a foreign crisis. He may not be a current politician, but he is a very prominent public figure who is rumored to be considering a presidential run in 2016. Therefore, his words carry a whiff of hypocrisy.

Below are transcripts of the segments:

Morning Joe
03/05/14


MIKA BRZEZINSKI: And then we have this going on back in the U.S. The Republican senator Lindsey Graham used Twitter to speak out against the president's response to the crisis in Ukraine. He wrote, quote, "It started with Benghazi. When you kill Americans and nobody pays a price, you invite this kind of aggression. #Ukraine." There’s a lot of criticism for the president. There are some that might believe that the secretary of State is delivering the harsh words, and the president is trying to give them an off ramp, and that it might be the right way to go, but Republicans are very critical.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Well, a lot of people have been critical about the president. You know, yesterday I talked about this quaint notion in politics that, you know, in these international crises, that politics should really end at the water's edge during really dangerous times like now in international crises. That doesn’t mean Congress should be obsequious to the president on all matters, but I'm old-fashioned enough to believe that harshly criticizing the commander-in-chief during dangerous international crises, whether it’s with the likes of Saddam Hussein or Vladimir Putin, well, that provides comfort to nation-states who choose to be our enemies. And I believed that when George W. Bush was president, I believe that today when Barack Obama is president. Yesterday afternoon, I talked about this quaint notion in the morning, and I know Richard Haas agrees with me on this quaint notion. But yesterday afternoon, The Washington Post's David Ignatius sat down and he talked to Bush and Obama's secretary of Defense Bob Gates, who said this: "It seems to me that trying to speak with one voice, one American voice, has become a quaint thing of the past.” That word again, quaint. “I regret that enormously.” And so do I, Mika, because there's nothing more frightening to our enemies, to America’s enemies, than a strong, unified American voice. And if the president of the United States isn’t providing that publicly, and some could argue that he’s not, it's incumbent upon his rivals – his political rivals –  to encourage him privately, not provide political broadsides in public when the tanks are rolling. There's going to be a lot of time to do that, Mika, during the political campaigns, but for now Washington leaders should measure their words a bit more carefully because, Richard Haas, not only is the whole world watching, Vladimir Putin especially is watching.
 
***
03/04/14

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: So Putin looks at the West and I think he sees it as weak and certainly not willing to put its money where its mouth is, so I don't see a tremendous number of barriers to a decision. I mean, if you were like, say, you know, you have these pockets of Russian ethnic – Russian ethnic pockets all over the borders of Russia. If you're in Moldova, you know, you’re sort of thinking to yourself, hmm, we might be next. And, you know, this is his move. He’s post-Sochi, he’s post-Olympics and he might say, all right, I'm going to get criticized, I’m going to get excoriated for a while, but nobody’s really going to stop me if I move forward in Ukraine or elsewhere



SCARBOROUGH: And that really is – I mean, you look at his client states. That’s the message of what’s happened in Syria over the past several years. We draw lines in the sand and one line after another gets crossed over. The same thing’s happened in Iran. I still have an old, sort of tattered Wall Street Journal editorial criticizing an administration for allowing the Iranians to step over one line drawn in the sand after another. There, the Wall Street Journal was attacking the Bush administration for drawing lines in the sand and then having the Iranians, you know, walk over them. We’ve been feckless towards Iran, towards Syria and it’s sent a really strong message to Putin.

WILLIAM KRISTOL: No, I very much agree with that. I think Syria, for all of the debate here about whether it was wise to draw the red line in the first place or to send troops or not –

SCARBOROUGH: It was drawn.

KRISTOL: It was drawn.

SCARBOROUGH: It was drawn, and some people don’t understand –

KRISTOL: –  talking to people around the world –
 
SCARBOROUGH: – ‘cause we’ve had this debate. We had this debate around the table and people, ‘Oh, come on. It’s just...’ No.  You know what? People like Vladimir Putin take note when you draw a line in the sand and it is crossed.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.