CNN’s Cooper Invites Jimmy Carter to Rank Presidential Mistakes

For the second time in two days, a CNN anchor asked Jimmy Carter to rank President Bush’s Iraq invasion on the scale of historical mistakes. Both segments minimized or ignored the serious errors that Carter himself made as Commander in Chief, such as his failed attempt at rescuing the Iranian hostages. And both mentioned his peace making efforts. On Tuesday, Wolf Blitzer asked the ex-president just how "big a blunder" Iraq would end up becoming. On Thursday, Anderson Cooper wanted to know the same thing. Additionally, each set of questions and answers featured references to Vietnam:

Anderson Cooper: "In the history of mistakes that administrations have made, how big do you think this Iraq operation has been?"

Jimmy Carter: "Well, obviously, it will be judged in retrospect after the whole thing is over which may be a few years in the future, but up until this point, it's been a horrible mistake. One of the worst mistakes we’ve made. I would say it would compare-- you could argue both sides with Vietnam. But, the main thing was that it's been a quagmire in Iraq. It hasn't succeed so far. The violence is escalating. Americans have lost their lives. But, I think the worst thing was the abandonment of Afghanistan. We had a good chance there after the Soviets withdrew and we came in to stamp out the Taliban policies and to wipe out al Qaeda. We had unanimous support around the rest of the world. All of a sudden, we could have had the whole world on our team rebuilding Afghanistan. Giving them a glimpse of a good life in the future. I think that would have contributed to the possibility of a permanent democratic state of their choice. And I think all of that was abandoned in favor of Iraq. That adds to the seriousness of the mistake of going in to Iraq."

During Tuesday’s "Situation Room," Wolf Blitzer phrased his query in a remarkably similar manner:

Wolf Blitzer: "In the scheme of things, how big of a blunder was it in terms of foreign policy blunders that American presidents have made?"

Jimmy Carter: "One of the -- it's going to prove, I believe, to be one of the greatest blunders that American presidents have ever made."

Blitzer: "Bigger than Vietnam?"

Carter: "I think it's going to be a close call, but perhaps much more vividly known by the rest of the world than Vietnam was. And, of course, my answer is predicated on not knowing what's going to happen in the future."

Anderson Cooper, unlike Mr. Blitzer, did actually mention the Iran hostage crisis, but only briefly during the introduction. Both hosts ignored Carter's botched attempts at rescuing the hostages. Cooper also made a point of closing the interview by describing the ex- president this way: "Former President Jimmy Carter who also, of course, brokered the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel."

A transcript of the AC 360 segment, which aired at 10:18pm on November 30, follows:

Anderson Cooper: "President Bush is not the only president, of course, to face a menu of bad choices especially when it comes to the Middle East. A quarter of a century ago, Jimmy Carter's presidency was bedeviled by the Iran hostage crisis. I spoke with former President Carter earlier today and asked him for his take on today's summit and the current president."

Jimmy Carter: "But my hope is that there will be some clarification of what the United States is doing now and what they will be doing in the future. And if Maliki will be strengthened to take some bold steps when he gets back home in controlling the violence. I'm very interested in a fazed withdrawal. I think that sends a clear signal to Maliki that we won't be there indefinitely and my hope is that they'll be a commitment by the world community including the controversial nations of Syria and Iran, but also, of course, Jordan and Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the moderate Arab countries. That's what I hope will happen."

Cooper: "A source has told CNN that the Iraq Study Group's going to recommend a gradual, but what they call meaningful, reduction of U.S. troops as early as January. Do you think, first of all, that that is a good idea?"

Carter: "Well, it's better than nothing. I would prefer a much more rapid withdrawal myself and I don't know what the, you know, what the recommendation will be until I see the written report. But to wait until January to start gradual redeployment with no end in sight, I think, is slower than I would prefer."

Cooper: "I mean, there are some who say, look, any sort of withdrawal and the president sort of reiterated this today that any kind of withdrawal is basically endangering the future of Iraq, that it's going to embolden the terrorists and it's going to basically just, just weaken the future of the country."

Carter: "I don't agree with that at all. I think that a firm commitment to withdraw at sometime in the future, I don't want to put a particular date on it, will send a clear message to the Iraqi government that they have to act more firmly on their own. And I have always felt that just a mere presence of U.S. -- United States troops, you know, in Baghdad and in the troubled areas is an incentive for the terrorist acts to continue. So I think just getting U.S. troops out of the -- you might say the trouble zones will automatically reduce violence to some degree."

Cooper: "I want to play some of what President Bush said about Iraq today in this press conference and then we'll talk about it. Let's listen."

(Clip of Bush) George W. Bush: "We'll be in Iraq until the job is complete. At the request of a sovereign government elected by the people. I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq. We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done so long as the government wants us there."

Cooper: "If this last election was a referendum on Iraq and the American people sent a message to this administration on Iraq, does it sound from that sound bite as if the President has gotten the message?"

Carter: "I don't think so. Maybe he'll change his mind when he sees the recommendation of the upcoming committee Monday morning. I think there is a possibility though, for the president to declare some kind of victory in the future and go ahead and get out of Iraq. You know, if he could say that these marshaled an international commitment to the future of Iraq and that the Iraqi government has therefore with that reassurance asked the United States to withdraw, by phases, I think he could say that they've accomplished their purpose, they had a victory in Iraq and he could come out of it with, you know, saving his reputation in Iraq and maybe the Iraqi people and everybody else would be better satisfied."

Cooper: "Another thing the Iraq Study Group is expected to talk about is the notion of having open and perhaps direct communication with leaders from Iran and Syria. There are those who say, look, little has actually been accomplished in the past by U.S. presidents, including yourself in some cases, trying to talk to these regimes directly. Why would talking -- I think you support it now. Why?"

Carter: "Syria and Iran are brought in. They won't be a disturbing factor if they are also in conjunction with or in harmony with Egypt and Jordan and Saudi Arabia and the United States and other countries which have already been named. They will be part of a compact of nations that are interested in the future of Iraq. And I don't think it would be likely that Iran or Syria would turn down that opportunity if it was extended. I don't think this would imply that the United States and Iran has to sit down across the table with each other and start negotiating about the future of Iraq. That is not in the cards at all."

Cooper: "In the history of mistakes that administrations have made, how big do you think this Iraq operation has been?"

Carter: "Well, obviously, it will be judged in retrospect after the whole thing is over which may be a few years in the future, but up until this point, it's been a horrible mistake. One of the worst mistakes we have made. I would say it would compare -- you could argue both sides with Vietnam. But, the main thing was that it's been a quagmire in Iraq. It hasn't succeed so far. The violence is escalating. Americans have lost their lives. But I think the worst thing was the abandonment of Afghanistan. We had a good chance there after the Soviets withdrew and we came in to stamp out the Taliban policies and to wipe out al Qaeda. We had unanimous support around the rest of the world. All of a sudden, we could have had the whole world on our team rebuilding Afghanistan. Giving them a glimpse of a good life in the future. I think that would have contributed to the possibility of a permanent democratic state of their choice. And I think all of that was abandoned in favor of Iraq. That adds to the seriousness of the mistake of going in to Iraq."

Cooper: "Former President Jimmy Carter who also, of course, brokered the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel."

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