Next, Russert moved on to Iraq. As liberals, the anchors responded only to liberal criticisms of their coverage. The concept that these networks were too fervently in favor or liberals or Democrats was not entertained. But the idea that they were too soft on the Bushies was assumed to be the dominant, if not the only legitimate, critique. Said Koppel: "Do we have a right to ask critical-- not just a right; do we have an obligation to ask critical questions? And did we fall short of that prior to the Iraq War? That's a perfectly legitimate point, and I think we all have to plead guilty, to one degree or another, to having been, you know, a little bit soft on the administration beforehand."
Brokaw tried to defend the media against the Eric Altermans of the world by saying the liberal Democrats were pathetic in their opposition:
I agree with you that I don't think that we pushed hard enough for vigorous debate. I think that on Capitol Hill that the debate was anemic, at best. You had--Ted Kennedy and Senator Byrd, really, were the only ones speaking out with any kind of passion in the Senate, the people who...
BROKAW: No. No. No.
RUSSERT: That seemed to be a uniformly held belief.
BROKAW: Right. Yeah.
KOPPEL: Nor did the Clinton administration beforehand.
KOPPEL: I mean, the only difference between the Clinton administration and the Bush administration was 9/11.
KOPPEL: If 9/11 had happened on Bill Clinton's watch, he would have gone into Iraq.
That's a very dubious claim, but it does push liberals back and say Democrats might have done the same thing. (I don't buy it.) Then Koppel pushes his war-for-oil talking point, as if he just came from watching "Syriana" at the movies:
What's intriguing to me, Tim, is we're still talking about the war as though it were in a vacuum, and we're still talking about victory and what is to be achieved as though it were in a vacuum. And the one thing that we are not talking about, because it somehow seems indelicate or unpolitic or even inappropriate, is the simple fact of the matter that, while we did not go to war because of Iraq's oil, we did, in fact, go to war because it is absolutely essential to the national interest, not only of this country but also of the Europeans and of the Japanese, that the Persian Gulf remains stable. We have--when I say "we" I mean U.S. administrations going back to the Eisenhower administration--have been intervening in the Persian Gulf in one form or another--we overthrew the Iranian prime minister, [Mossadegh] -- that is, the CIA did -- precisely because we felt he was too close to the Communist Party at that time and we were afraid what that would mean if Iran became a Communist state.
As long as we had the shah of Iran there, he was our surrogate. In fact, you may remember the Nixon policy was that the shah would be our surrogate in the Persian Gulf. When the shah was overthrown, we shifted our chips onto the Saudi board, and then it became the House of Saud that became our representative. The Saudis are, indeed, troubled. The royal family of Saudi Arabia is in deep trouble. Therefore, we need to have a stable Iraq in order to guarantee a stable Persian Gulf, and the name of that game is oil. Nobody talks about that.
MR. RUSSERT: And the administration, when they went to war, used as the primary rationale the weapons of mass destruction.
MR. KOPPEL: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: Is it possible for a president to say just what you did: "We are going there because we need a stable Middle East because we need ready access to oil supply to continue--our economy to soar"?
MR. KOPPEL: I think it has to be possible. I understand why politicians and even statesmen--or maybe that is the difference between a politician and a statesman. A politician can't do it; a statesman must do it.
And talk of "statesmanship" is quickly followed by calls for our "statesmen" to do the right thing and ask for tax increases, which Bush has failed to do:
MR. BROKAW: The other thing that can happen domestically, Tim, is that--and I completely agree with Ted on this. I think that--and I've been talking about this around the country some--this disconnect between those people who are in uniform and fighting this war over there and a large portion of our population, because no sacrifice is being asked of anyone at home. The president is not asking us to conserve oil or to ration gasoline or to push hard for alternative sources of energy in this conflict.
MR. KOPPEL: Or to pay a nickel more in taxes.
MR. BROKAW: Or to pay more in taxes for it. And so it allows someone to say, "Well, we have a mercenary army." I don't believe that we have a mercenary military. I think people volunteer for the right reasons. No one is going to go over there for the kind of paychecks that they get and expose themselves to IEDs and the kind of random death that exists all day, every day for any kind of a group. But I don't believe that this administration, or, for that matter, the opposition has asked enough of the American people, or raised that as an issue about we're all involved in this at this point and we're all going to get--we all got into it and we're all going to get out of it if we all play a part.