MSNBC Suggests Bush Finds US Troops 'Expendable'

On MSNBC's Countdown show on Thursday, substitute host Brian Unger suggested President Bush views American troops as "expendable" as he picked up on an erroneous report by the Washington Post that the new Iraqi government would offer amnesty to insurgents who had killed American troops. Unger contended that the President is "apparently okay with that," and wondered if the White House risked being "perceived as believing that American lives in Iraq are expendable." By contrast, FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume corrected the Washington Post's inaccurate story, which was based on an interview with an outgoing Iraqi government official. And just days after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a high-level member of al-Qaeda's leadership, was killed in Iraq, Unger dismissed Iraq's relevance to the war on terrorism, calling it "a link that has been proven not to exist." (Transcript follows)

Unger opened the show by quoting President Bush's statement that an offer of "reconciliation" was a sign that the Iraqi people are "not so bound up in bitterness that they aren't willing to think positively about the future." Referring to the 2500th death of American troops in Iraq, Unger added: "The road to that future now paved with the lives of 2500 Americans in uniform, and counting."

The Countdown host then recounted the incorrect assertions made by the Washington Post as he assumed Bush supported amnesty for those who have killed American troops: "The Iraqi prime minister floating a proposal that would pardon insurgents who have attacked American troops but were not involved in the shedding of any Iraqi blood. The American President apparently okay with that, raising the question: What exactly have we been fighting for?"

He then chided Congress for not taking up the issue and dismissed Iraq's relevance to the war on terrorism, even though Zarqawi, a high-ranking member of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization, had been in Iraq for at least a year before the U.S. invaded the country. Unger: "It's the kind of question one might hope that Congress would address, but instead Republican lawmakers have been debating a measure that essentially ties the war in Iraq to the war on terror, a link that has been proven not to exist."

Unger then brought aboard Newsweek's Richard Wolffe to further discuss Iraq. At one point, recounting White House spokesman Tony Snow's dismissal of the significance of the number 2500 when asked about the number of American troop deaths, Unger wondered whether Snow's comment combined with amnesty in Iraq would make the White House seem to view American troops as "expendable": "Richard, in response to a question about the 2500 troops killed in Iraq, White House press secretary Tony Snow did say that President Bush feels very deeply the pain of these families, but Mr. Snow prefaced that remark by saying, on the milestone, quote, 'It's just a number.' Richard, add that to amnesty for insurgents, does this White House run the risk of being perceived as believing that American lives in Iraq are expendable in this effort?"

By contrast, FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, which aired two hours before MSNBC's Countdown, relayed the inaccuracy of the Washington Post amnesty story during a report by correspondent Bret Baier, and later during the Fox All Stars segment. FNC's Morton Kondracke recounted that a statement by Prime Minister Maliki "was interpreted by an outgoing aide, somebody who had already resigned who was an aide in the former government of Jaffri, told the Post, 'Oh yeah, it might be that people with American blood on their hands, might be amnesty...'" Kondracke continued: "Apparently Maliki never said that, and now Rubaie, the national security advisor, has absolutely stomped on this."

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Thursday June 15 Countdown show:

Brian Unger, in opening teaser: "As the death toll reaches 2500, Iraq's new prime minister says insurgents who kill our troops could walk free."
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Unger, opening the show: "Good evening. I'm Brian Unger in for Keith Olbermann. President Bush says the Iraqi government's desire for what it calls reconciliation is an important sign that the people of that young democracy are, quote, 'not so bound up in bitterness that they aren't willing to think positively about the future.' The road to that future now paved with the lives of 2500 Americans in uniform, and counting. Our fifth story on the Countdown, what some call reconciliation others call amnesty for insurgents. The Iraqi prime minister floating a proposal that would pardon insurgents who have attacked American troops but were not involved in the shedding of any Iraqi blood. The American President apparently okay with that, raising the question: What exactly have we been fighting for? It's the kind of question one might hope that Congress would address, but instead Republican lawmakers have been debating a measure that essentially ties the war in Iraq to the war on terror, a link that has been proven not to exist. We begin tonight with correspondent Chip Reid and the view from Capitol Hill. Chip?"
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Unger, to Richard Wolffe: "Should I be surprised, Richard, at how little blowback there has been so far about this amnesty for insurgents dovetailing as it does with the terrible marker of 2500 Americans in uniform having been killed in Iraq, and with the Bush administration's policy that immigrants in this country are not worthy of amnesty?"

Richard Wolffe, Newsweek: "Well, yeah, I guess it is surprising that the conservative base hasn't raised more of an outcry here. ..."

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Unger, to Wolffe: "Richard, in response to a question about the 2500 troops killed in Iraq, White House press secretary Tony Snow did say that President Bush feels very deeply the pain of these families, but Mr. Snow prefaced that remark by saying, on the milestone, quote, 'It's just a number.' Richard, add that to amnesty for insurgents, does this White House run the risk of being perceived as believing that American lives in Iraq are expendable in this effort?"

Wolffe: "I don't think so. I mean, Tony Snow can take a, he likes the put-downs. Sometimes it's maybe a tactic that worked for him on his radio show that can seem cold in the briefing. I'm sure his coldness was directed towards the questioner more than the topic. From what I hear and from what I've reported, the President does feel indeed a huge amount of personal grief when he meets these families, these bereaved families. ..."