NBC's Engel Is Adamant on NPR: Iraq's Liberation Set Back 'Arab Spring'

George W. Bush spoke out repeatedly during his term for the spread of democracy throughout the Middle East. He said it was insulting to assume that Arabs or Muslims were incapable of democratic reforms. Bush overthrew dictators in Iraq and Afghanistan and allowed elections to proceed. But NBC's chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, was adamant on National Public Radio on Friday: You cannot credit Bush policies for the "Arab Spring."

NPR Fresh Air host Terry Gross seemed to be hoping Engel would help her out and denounce Bush:

GROSS: You covered the war in Iraq, which the Bush administration said would bring democracy to Iraq and then help spread it through the Middle East. So now democracy is trying to spread through the Middle East, you know...

ENGEL: But it wasn't because of Iraq.

GROSS: Yes. So I wanted to know whether you think Iraq had anything to do with that.

ENGEL: No. If anything I think it slowed it down. I was in Egypt. I was in Libya. I was in Tunisia even and I didn't hear a single person saying in those crowds: "We're going to do this. Look what they've done in Baghdad. If they can do it in Baghdad we can do it here too." Zero. Zilch.

Instead what you saw was the governments of Gadhafi and of Mubarak saying: "Look at what happened in Baghdad. You people want democracy? Well, look at what happened in Iraq. They had a civil war. They had chaos." The Iraq was used to scare the people into not pursuing their democratic aspirations. So this cause-effect relationship that some people are talking about just wasn't there.

People were determined to go out onto the streets to demonstrate and to demand more rights because their governments were treating them badly because of corruption, because of inequality, not because they were inspired by what they saw in Baghdad. What people saw in Baghdad was the country descend into civil war.

Engel seemed to be speaking from the John Chancellor School -- as in when the former NBC anchor claimed shortages in the Soviet Union had nothing to do with communism. Engel appeared on NPR to promote his new documentary with Rachel Maddow titled "Day of Destruction, Decade of War."  Maddow explained it to The Huffington Post:

"We both felt like there was explanatory work to be done," Maddow said, in a bit of an understatement. "We are structurally different than we were." That, she said, is really the special's overarching thesis: that the country has changed.

Like many, Maddow had followed all of these events closely over the years. Unlike many, she also had cable news time and money to give her take on how the U.S. has responded to 9/11. So she and Engel set about doing just that.

"There are certain things about the way that the country's changed," she said. "Super-empowered local law enforcement, the business of national security, the privatization of so many core military functions, the way that the fear of terrorism...has become a lucrative business, the way that it has become almost an unquestioned goal that counterterrorism and law enforcement should be commingled."

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