Today's Opening Salvo On Iraq Anniversary: 'Was It Worth It?'

Viewers tuning into this morning's Today show for their 4th year anniversary coverage the Iraq war were assaulted with doom and gloom from the news team at Today beginning with its host Matt Lauer who opened the show asking: "Is the war worth it?" At the top of the show Lauer teased Today's look back on the war this way: 

Lauer: "Good morning, Iraq: Four years later. On this date in 2003, the start of Shock and Awe. Then the fall of Saddam but was it Mission Accomplished?"

George W. Bush: "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended."

Lauer: "As the war enters its fifth year America is shell-shocked, the casualties staggering, the price tag in the hundreds of billions. Is the war worth it? And is there still a chance for victory? A look back and a look forward today, Monday, March 19th, 2007."

Then just a few minutes later NBC's White House correspondent, David Gregory, buttressed Lauer's dour tone claiming victory is out of the question and that the focus is just how soon the U.S. can get the troops out:

David Gregory: "Good morning, Meredith. Well it is clear how four years of war have damaged the Bush presidency but the politics of war now are about getting out and for both Republicans and Democrats there are few good options. Four years later the President's plan for war and his predictions are in tatters."

Gregory then threw it to their in-house historian for a dire projection the GOP's future:

Gregory: "For Republicans the political fallout is huge. The war has cost the party control of Congress and analysts say its historic reputation as the party of national defense."

Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian: "The Republican Party is gonna work to have to get out from under the shadow of Iraq, just like the Democrats had to do with Vietnam in 1968."

The following is the entire opening segment as it occurred on the March 19th Today show:

Matt Lauer: "Good morning, Iraq: Four years later. On this date in 2003, the start of Shock and Awe. Then the fall of Saddam but was it Mission Accomplished?"

George W. Bush: "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended."

Lauer: "As the war enters its fifth year America is shell-shocked, the casualties staggering, the price tag in the hundreds of billions. Is the war worth it? And is there still a chance for victory? A look back and a look forward today, Monday, March 19th, 2007."

...

Matt Lauer: "And good morning, welcome to a special edition of Today on a Monday morning. I'm Matt Lauer."

Meredith Vieira: "And I'm Meredith Vieira. You know when the United States struck Baghdad from the air trying to assassinate Saddam Hussein four years ago today it looked like the war could be over quickly."

Lauer: "However today U.S. troops remain caught in combat in the middle of what's become a deadly civil war and of course it's divided Americans here at home. Many want the troops out, some now. While others support the President's decision to send additional troops into Baghdad."

Vieira: "So what now? This morning we will talk to the President's Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. We'll also check in with NBC's Richard Engel, who has seen the horrors of war firsthand, ever since the beginning."

Lauer: "Four years later the human toll of this war is devastating. 3,218 U.S. troops have been killed, another 24,042 have been wounded and by one estimate more than 60,000 Iraqis have been killed."

Vieira: "Let's start with a timeline of the war four years later. On March 19th, 2003 President Bush addressed the nation announcing that a multi-national invasion of Iraq was underway. The President's stated goals: to disarm Saddam Hussein, free the Iraqi people and defend the world from grave danger. Shortly after the invasion began Saddam fled Baghdad, within two weeks Iraqi citizens symbolically deposed their former leader, a prelude to the fall of Baghdad, six days later. With the Iraqi army defeated President Bush announced the end of major combat operations and more good news came in December when an American special operations force captured Saddam hiding on a farm near Tikrit. But 2004 brought some of the war's darkest moments. In April photos surfaced of American servicemen and women torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. In September the 1000th American soldier was killed and November was the deadliest month for U.S. troops with 147 fatalities. Almost a year after his reelection President Bush saw his goal of bringing democracy to Iraq take an enormous leap forward when the Iraqi people voted to ratify a new constitution but sectarian tensions always simmering under the surface soon exploded with the bombing of the Al-Askari mosque in Samara, one of the holiest sites in the Shia world. A wave of attacks against Sunnis soon followed, accelerating Iraq's path towards civil war. Nouri Al-Maliki, a Shiite, took over as prime minister charged with quelling the violence. In June, President Bush offered his support in a surprise visit to Baghdad but at home the President's support was waning and a day after Democrats swept the midterm elections promising to bring home the troops one of the wars architects, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, resigned. Just before the end of 2006 a cell phone video showed the world a sight that many Iraqis thought they'd never see, the execution of Saddam Hussein. Two weeks later President Bush committed more than 20,000 additional troops to the war over the objections of the Iraq Study Group and Democrats on Capitol Hill. The debate over that decision and on the future of U.S. involvement itself continues as American troops carry on their efforts in a war that today, enters its fifth year. It is clear that the war in Iraq dominates our political landscape here in the U.S. Four years later the debate is more heated than ever. NBC's chief White House correspondent David Gregory has that perspective. David, good morning."

David Gregory: "Good morning, Meredith. Well it is clear how four years of war have damaged the Bush presidency but the politics of war now are about getting out and for both Republicans and Democrats there are few good options. Four years later the President's plan for war and his predictions are in tatters."

George W. Bush from March 6, 2003: "I believe we will prevail. I know we will prevail. And out of that disarmament of Saddam will come a better world particularly for the people who live in Iraq."

Gregory: "A vision to topple Saddam, rid the country of WMD and democratize Iraq undone by bad intelligence, inadequate planning and what many consider civil war. Expectations were not met."

Dick Cheney from March 16, 2003: "My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."

Bush being sworn in: "I George Walker Bush."

Gregory: "And a president who was reelected at the height of the war nevertheless suffers as it drags on."

Bush from January 10, 2007: "The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people and it is unacceptable to me."

Gregory: "Even stalwart supporters of the war have become critics."

Richard Perle, former chairman of Defense Policy Board: "The premise was sound, the execution was seriously flawed."

Gregory: "Newsweek's Howard Fineman says the 9/11 President squandered huge approval ratings on Iraq."

Howard Fineman: "He bet that on Iraq and it was a bet that neither militarily nor politically has worked out for him."

Gregory: "For Republicans the political fallout is huge. The war has cost the party control of Congress and analysts say its historic reputation as the party of national defense."

Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian: "The Republican Party is gonna work to have to get out from under the shadow of Iraq, just like the Democrats had to do with Vietnam in 1968."

Gregory: "For Democrats, however, the politics of war also create a trap. Given the President's strong political standing during the war debate few dared oppose him. Now those running for the White House are looking for cover."

John Edwards: "I was wrong. I've taken responsibility for that."

Hillary Clinton: "If we had known then what we know now there never would've been a vote and I never would've voted to give this president that authority."

Gregory: "With the debate over a withdrawal deadline stalled the question is whether satisfying an anti-war public is worth the risk of even greater carnage in Iraq and in the region should troops pull out too soon."

Perle: "I believe that if we pull out of Iraq it will be a huge victory for those who want to destroy us."

Gregory: "Four years later it's also striking how polarized the debate over the war has begun with Democrats and Republicans exchanging accusations about lying, about unpatriotic behavior as again the focus is on how to get U.S. troops back home, Matt."

Matt Lauer: "Alright, David, thank you. David Gregory at the White House this morning."

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.