David Shuster Gets Spanked by Iraqi UN Ambassador on ‘Hardball’

How often do you watch a show like MSNBC’s “Hardball” just hoping that one of the guests will spank the host when he makes an obvious misstatement, or is just being rude? Well, such occurred Wednesday when David Shuster, filling in for the vacationing Chris Matthews, tried to bully Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations Feisal Istrabadi

Right from the get-go, it was apparent that Shuster had no intention of showing any respect whatsoever to this dignitary, which of course was in stark contrast to how he gushed and fawned over former President Jimmy Carter just 24 hours earlier as reported by Mark Finkelstein. This is not to suggest that anyone should be accorded the respect of one of our former presidents. Instead, it was the comparative disrespect which was so striking; it was almost as if Istrabadi was a Republican.

Toward the end of the interview, it was clear that the Ambassador was getting tired of Shuster’s belligerence, and decided to fire back when the guest-host said:

But, Mr. Ambassador, with all due respect, I mean, you have known. The Iraqi government has known that for the past three years, and since the government was formed a year ago, you`ve had that support and the situation has gotten worse. So what specifically should the United States do? The polling suggests that 70 percent of Iraqis want the United States to just get out. Would that be wise?

Istrabadi took a second to restrain himself, and wonderfully responded:

Well, first of all, three years ago, we didn`t have a government. And this government was not founded a year ago and, with all respect -- you know, I appreciate that this is a rough and tumble show, but we need to get the facts straight. This government was formed at the end of May, beginning of June.

Take that, Red Baron. Istrabadi was, of course, correct, for this government was actually sworn in May 20, 2006 -- or six months ago. Aren't facts wonderful, and wouldn't it be marvelous if shameless pols like Shuster were required to properly reference them? After all, he is indeed a reporter, correct? Shouldn't accuracy be part of his charge, especially if he is going to be put in the position of interviewing domestic and foreign dignitaries? Or, is that asking too much?

Regardless, Shuster seemed visibly shaken, but tried to recover by saying, “Right, but you`ve had several elections over the past several years.”

Istrabadi was having none of that, and retorted: “And three years ago, we were under the formal occupation and rule by Ambassador Bremer.”

Recognizing he was on weak ground, Shuster followed the game plan we see exhibited so often by politicians he reveres – when you’re losing an argument, change the subject...quickly: “Well, let`s look forward, Mr. Ambassador.”

Yes, David...let’s.

What follows is a full transcript of this segment.

DAVID SHUSTER: OK. NBC`s Kelly O`Donnell traveling in Jordan. Kelly, thank you very much.

We go now to Iraq`s deputy permanent representative to the U.N., Feisal Istrabadi.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome.

FEISAL ISTRABADI, IRAQI DEP. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Thank you. Pleasure to be with you.

SHUSTER: President Bush traveled a long distance to meet today with both Jordan`s King Abdullah and Iraq`s prime minister. The meeting didn`t happen. Why not?

ISTRABADI: I don`t know. I mean, I don`t have any particular information more than you do, sitting here, you know, however many thousand miles away. I don`t think this is that big a deal. I think that these are two leaders who have met many times. They speak often and they are going to meet tomorrow. I think that it was always intended that they would meet today and tomorrow, so as it is, they will meet tomorrow. I really wouldn`t read too much into this.

SHUSTER: I`m sure you read the same memo that everybody else read this morning when they woke up, and that is a memo that essentially criticized your prime minister. That was not something that you welcomed, was it?

ISTRABADI: Well, it`s certainly not helpful coming at this time, but the fact of the matter is that this government enjoys broad support in Parliament of a coalition of parties in what is, in fact, a national unity government. And so this prime minister has a mandate to govern in Iraq. He is democratically elected and that really, in the end, is what matters, that and getting the handle on the violence, of course.

SHUSTER: But Mr. Ambassador, but do you believe that he does have control over some of the militias that are causing this trouble in Baghdad? Do you really believe that?

ISTRABADI: He doesn`t have control over the militias that are causing trouble in Baghdad, no. But what we are attempting to do in cooperation with our multinational forces -- with our allies in the multinational forces, is to assert the authority of the government over those militias.

I`m not going to argue with you that that has, in fact, occurred as of this date. Obviously, it hasn`t, but it is essential for us to do that and the point of these meetings tomorrow is to continue a common strategy to get that done.

SHUSTER: Well, let`s be clear. Let`s be clear here. What is it that the United States could do for Iraq that would improve the situation there?

ISTRABADI: Well, I mean, I`m not a security expert and so I can`t get into sort of operational -- suggestions for operational details. That`s not what I do, but I can tell you that what is essential for us is to know that we have -- and in fact, we do know that we have a reliable partner and ally in the United States, which is with us as we attempt to assert the authority of this government. It is essential for us to disarm these militias. The prime minister has made that very clear. I think the president agrees.

SHUSTER: But, Mr. Ambassador, with all due respect, I mean, you have known. The Iraqi government has known that for the past three years, and since the government was formed a year ago, you`ve had that support and the situation has gotten worse. So what specifically should the United States do? The polling suggests that 70 percent of Iraqis want the United States to just get out. Would that be wise?

ISTRABADI: Well, first of all, three years ago, we didn`t have a government. And this government was not founded a year ago and, with all respect -- you know, I appreciate that this is a rough and tumble show, but we need to get the facts straight. This government was formed at the end of May, beginning of June.

SHUSTER: Right, but you`ve had several elections over the past several years.

ISTRABADI: And three years ago, we were under the formal occupation and rule by Ambassador Bremer.

SHUSTER: Well, let`s look forward, Mr. Ambassador.

ISTRABADI: OK.

SHUSTER: How long do you want the United States, the American people to wait for the Iraqi government to either be able to assert control or take responsibility?

ISTRABADI: Well, I think that the United States` role has to be to support us as we attempt to assert control over militia groups and insurgents who are attempting to disrupt the Democratic project.

If this project is seen is a failure, if the United States withdraws prematurely, two things will happen. Number one, Iraq will suffer a catastrophic decline. If you think this is chaos now, watch to see what happens when the United States, if the United States, precipitously withdraws. That will make what is happening now in Iraq look like a tea party.

You will then be sending, secondly, a message to all groups who oppose the reestablishment of some sense of decency, normalcy and democratic governance in Iraq that they have obtained a victory over those forces that have promoted democracy in the Middle East in the past several years.

Now, this is something that will be seen as a victory for al Qaeda and others in the area that have hostile intentions, not only with respect to the United States, but with respect to all of us who want to see a Democratic and decent future in the Middle East.

SHUSTER: Ambassador, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.