ABC’s Diane Sawyer Ignores Joe Biden Gaffe: The ‘Nuclear State of Afghanistan?’

Good Morning America’s Diane Sawyer on Wednesday conducted a generally tough interview with Joe Biden on the subject of Afghanistan, but ignored an embarrassing gaffe from the Vice President: "Our number one enemy concern is the existential threat, al Qaeda. Number two is the stability of a nuclear state called Afghanistan, under siege by radicals." Did the Vice President, perhaps, mean Pakistan? It's unclear as Sawyer didn't follow up. [Audio available here.]

Earlier in the segment, responding to Sawyer’s comment that Republicans believe setting a date for removing troops is a bad idea, Biden argued, "How are they emboldened, knowing that by the time we train up the Afghanis, we're going to be gradually handing off, beginning in 2003 [sic]?" Beginning in 2003? Would journalists allow Sarah Palin to get away with such obvious malapropisms?

Despite this, Sawyer did conduct a tougher interview than her December 1 segment with Robert Gibbs. In that segment, she hit the White House press secretary mostly from the left. In contrast, the anchor chided Biden on Wednesday: "But, Senator John McCain and the Republicans, many others have been saying, to set a targeted beginning-of-withdrawal date at all, only emboldens enemies and dispirits allies. Does it?"

On the subject of reducing the number of troops, she wondered, "The President talks about withdrawals, beginning, just beginning, in July 2011. But if the Afghan troops are not ready to take over, will he start withdrawing anyway?"

Trying to pin Biden down, Sawyer challenged, "...We understood that you wanted to keep the focus on Pakistan, particularly the border where al Qaeda is, because you don't secure that border, what happens in Afghanistan is not going to make the quantum difference. Did you lose the argument with the President? And is 30,000 a good number in your view?"

Sawyer’s questions were a welcome change in tone from Tuesday. It's too bad the ABC co-host failed to quiz Biden on his puzzling comments about the "nuclear state called Afghanistan."

A transcript of the December 2 segment, which aired at 7:06am EST, follows:

DIANE SAWYER: Well, just three minutes before we went on the air, I had a chance to ask a few questions of Vice President Joe Biden, about the President's surge and withdrawal in 2011 strategy in Afghanistan. Mr. Vice President, want to get right to it. The President talks about withdrawals, beginning, just beginning, in July 2011. But if the Afghan troops are not ready to take over, will he start withdrawing anyway?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Look, we put together a strategy that's narrow in focus, that our allies and our military and civilian leadership thinks is going to work. And I assume will work. The fact of the matter is, in July 2011, there will be an awful lot of American troop there's. And the only question is the gradual- how steep the slope will be to begin to withdraw. This idea that we have-

SAWYER: Let me ask you about- I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt.

BIDEN: That’s all right.

SAWYER: But, Senator John McCain and the Republicans, many others have been saying, to set a targeted beginning-of-withdrawal date at all, only emboldens enemies and dispirits allies. Does it?

BIDEN: I don't know how it does either of those things. First of all, embolden the enemy how? They’ll be over 100,000 American troops and 135,000 NATO and allied troops in the region. How are they emboldened, knowing that by the time we train up the Afghani, we're going to be gradually handing off, beginning in 2003 [sic]? This idea that they’re going to lay low and all of sudden come racing back when we only have 98,000 troops there, I just- it's just not logical to me. And in the meantime, if they lay low, that will be just wonderful. It will allow us to faster train the Afghan troops. Allow us to further degrade al Qaeda in Pakistan. Allows us to further help the Pakistanis to have a more capable military to take on the bad guys in the western part of the country. So, it sounds good. But there’s no- I don't see logic to it.

SAWYER: A quick question to you. Because, we understood that you wanted to keep the focus on Pakistan, particularly the border where al Qaeda is, because you don't secure that border, what happens in Afghanistan is not going to make the quantum difference. Did you lose the argument with the President? And is 30,000 a good number in your view?

BIDEN: My view all along has been less important what the number is than what the strategy is. And the President laid out the strategy in the following order. Our number one enemy concern is the existential threat, al Qaeda. Number two is the stability of a nuclear state called Afghanistan, under siege by radicals. And number three, prevent the president government, while it’s gaining its sea legs to be able to be toppled or fundamentally altered by the Taliban. They- All three of those things are in place. The President's got the priorities right. The number of troops is much less important than that narrowed, clear strategy. And the expectation that we expect both the Pakistanis to step up. We expect the Afghanis to, in fact, have better governance and train up better. And we're going to be relentless in our continued pursuit, which we are doing and are succeeding in, in going after al Qaeda in Pakistan, where they are.

SAWYER: Mr. Vice President, good to hear from you this morning. Thanks so much.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org