Jon Stewart, N.Y. Times Reporter Joked About How Bush Team Resembled Drunken Bar Bullies

David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent of the New York Times, appeared on The Daily Show Wednesday night to plug his new book decrying the Iraq war and offering foreign-policy advice to the new administration. Host Jon Stewart compared the Bush administration to a group of drunken bar bullies who were spoiling for a fight every night. Sanger joked that designation clearly fit Dick Cheney. Stewart asked Sanger how he prioritized his nightmare scenarios for President Obama:

SANGER: Well, the Iranians are building nuclear weapons because we were off in Iraq. The North Koreans went out and built six or seven nuclear weapons right at the time that we were off in Iraq. Afghanistan, obviously a big problem. And the more people I interviewed, the more I discovered that as they came in to go deal with the Taliban, they discovered all our forces were off in Iraq. There’s a story out here.

STEWART: There's a theme in your book here. There's a thread in here. Basically you refer to Iraq as quote-unquote "the distraction."

SANGER: That's right.

STEWART: Is that the whole story of how this has all sort of, exploded on us?

SANGER: No, it's not. And Iraq is not the only reason we would have an Iranian regime that we've got troubles with. We've had trouble with North Korea since early 1950s. So Iraq was simply the moment in which the entire top tier of the U.S. government thought they were heading into a problem they could solve in six months or a year, and it ended up consuming the rest of the Bush term. And the result was that others exploited the moment. And it wasn't just the Iranians and the North Koreans and so forth. The Chinese were huge winners of the Iraq war. Remember, when George Bush came in, many around him wanted to go confront China and contain it.

STEWART: Didn't many around him want to go confront everybody? I mean, literally it felt like these are just like a bunch of drunken frat... it reminds me of a bar I used to work at where this one group of guys would come in and every night you'd just be like "I wonder who they're going to fight."

SANGER: Was Cheney at your bar? (Laughter) The first term was very different than the second. In the first term, they so focused on many of these enemies because they thought that if they just squeezed the North Koreans, if they squeezed the Iranians they would give up their arms and walk away. And that was some of the theory of the Iraq war. You go back, and as I interviewed people who sat in the meetings as they planned to go into Iraq, they thought that the remaining powers would say "look what happened to Saddam Hussein, we're not going to let that happen to us."

STEWART: That thought it was a head on a pike war. They literally thought they were going to go in there, put his head on a pike and even was going to be like [adopting low voice] "your power is immeasurable." You know? And they'd all back away. And the opposite happened. It was almost a sin of omission.

Neither joker in this exchange discussed Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi, who did respond that way to Saddam’s demise.

The problem with the Sanger scenario is what he counsels did not work -- attempting diplomatic processes with Iran and North Korea -- is exactly what a President Gore would have done with Iraq over the last eight years. Isn't it possible that Gore would have been too distracted by crusading to rid the world of carbon dioxide to notice nuclearization attempts in these countries?

They never seem to consider or discuss how the world would have been better off with Saddam Hussein still in power and trying to acquire his own nukes. But liberal reporters wouldn't grade that as a failure, as long as a president they supported (at the office and the voting booth) was in charge.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis