CBS News and Katie Couric put repenting before the looking to the future and solutions as producers chose this question, from Couric to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, to tease at the top of Thursday's CBS Evening News: “Do you regret what many perceive as your unwavering support of this President and this war?" In the subsequent interview, Couric, who the night before called Iraq a “nightmare,” pressed Blair about himself and President George W. Bush “acknowledging failures.” Referring to their joint press conference, Couric queried: "The President seemed determined as ever to stay on track. Do you think he, or for that matter you, are capable of acknowledging failures in this policy and changing gears when and if necessary?" Couric's follow-up displayed her frustration with Bush: "But he's been very insistent for months now that the U.S. policy is correct and while he's accepted there may have to be a slight change, he's really dug his heels in."
In contrast, on ABC's World News, George Stephanopoulos avoided such psychological speculation and calls for regret as he stuck to questioning Blair about the Iraq Study Group's recommendations. For instance, Stephanopoulos wondered: “Senator McCain said today that this report is 'a recipe for defeat' because it doesn't include massive increases in troops in Baghdad to secure Baghdad. Do you agree?” (NBC did not get a sit-down with Blair.)
“I'll have a rare one-on-one interview with America's number one ally.”
Couric to Blair in interview: "Do you regret what many perceive as your unwavering support of this President and this war?"
Couric's session with Blair, as edited for airing on the December 7 CBS Evening News:
Katie Couric: “The man who has stood by the President, Prime Minister Tony Blair, spoke with me this afternoon about his unwavering support for a war that's been increasingly criticized.”
Couric to Blair: “Mr. Prime Minister, do you agree with the Baker commission that the current approach in Iraq is not working and the situation is grave and deteriorating?”
Tony Blair: “Well, it's certainly very tough, absolutely. And there's no doubt about it at all. We're facing a very, very difficult situation, very challenging situation, but as they say, it's a situation that we cannot afford not to win.”
Couric: “Do you support the 79 recommendations?”
Blair: “I basically think the report gives us the right foundation to move forward.”
Couric: “The President seemed determined as ever to stay on track. Do you think he, or for that matter you, are capable of acknowledging failures in this policy and changing gears when and if necessary?”
Blair: “Yeah, I mean we've got to evolve strategy because the situation's changed, so if you don't change when the situation changes, then you're not doing the right thing.”
Couric: “But he's been very insistent for months now that the U.S. policy is correct and while he's accepted there may have to be a slight change, he's really dug his heels in.”
Blair: “Well, he talked today about a new way forward, and I think the critical distinction is this: His concern, and in a sense my concern as well, is that people use the challenge that we face to drive us from the central mission itself, and that would be very dangerous because it is important that we make sure that we help Iraq to become the democracy its people want to see.”
Couric: “You've supported the United States engaging with Iran and Syria. Does the President seem receptive because he didn't earlier today?”
Blair: “Well, it depends what you mean by 'engage with.'"
Couric: “Part of a regional conference, an Iraq support group recommended in the report.”
Blair: “I think that provided Iran and Syria come in order to help I think people would want them as part of this group. Yes, of course they would. What is important that they come to the table helping Iraq, supporting its government, not undermining it.”
Couric: “Your steadfast support, Mr. Prime Minister, of President Bush has cost you at home. In a recent poll, only 27 percent said they were satisfied with your job performance. Do you regret what many perceive as your unwavering support of this President and this war?”
Blair: “No. Look, sometimes in politics what happens is there are issues that come up that you consider so big and so important that you've got to do what you think is the right thing, and, you know, people can disagree, and they can make you unpopular, but you've got to do it if you think it's right. And even if it is difficult-”
Couric: “Even if the majority of people disagree with you?”
Blair: “You sometimes, I'm afraid, have got to govern by what you believe rather than by picking up the opinion poll. Now they may end up rejecting you as a result of it. Well, that's -- that's their prerogative to do it, but it's your duty to do what you think is right, and that's what I've tried to do. And I think that we should be proud of what we stand for in the world.”