ABC and CBS (not NBC) featured interviews Wednesday morning with White House communications director Dan Bartlett. Both networks were fairly harsh in their questioning. ABC’s Diane Sawyer read a long list of eminent people who opposed a surge, and pressed, "What don’t they get?" She even used soundbites of soldiers saying it was a hopeless civil war and "I don’t think we need to be here." CBS’s Harry Smith aimed his barbs at Bartlett more from the right, questioning whether 20,000 troops would be enough, and insisting that the Iraqis weren’t up to the "blood and guts" job of security. He also hammered on the president’s low approval ratings and asked "Why should the American people have faith in the president at this moment?"
MRC’s Justin McCarthy reported that Sawyer opened Good Morning America with the spin that the President was going exactly against public opinion: "Amid calls in this country for a withdrawal of American troops, the president is going to be sending more troops to Iraq."
Sawyer asked : "It is a big night tonight. And I just want to run through a partial roll call of the number of people we know who have either opposed what the president is going to do or expressed serious reservations. We're talking about top generals, George Casey, John Abizaid, Republican former secretary of state Colin Powell, James Baker, who co-chaired the Iraq Study Group, Senators Olympia Snowe, George Smith (sic – should be Gordon Smith), Chuck Hagel, and I could go on and on and on. What don't they get? What don't they understand?"
Bartlett: "Well, Diane I take issue with some of those people you announced, the top generals who helped devise this plan do support what President Bush will be announcing tonight...
Sawyer: "Are you saying that General Casey and General Abizaid, as a recently as a couple of months ago, were not saying that we do not need more boots on the ground? Are you saying they weren't saying that?"
Bartlett: "Well, I've sat in a lot of meetings where General Casey and General Abizaid have given their advice and have worked this war plan and I will tell you that they understand that more troops and a very specific mission, with an Iraqi partner who steps up makes the type of tough decisions can yield the type of political breathing space that most people believe the Iraqis need in order to force the type of political consensus to move this country forward. They are a part of this plan, they helped devise this plan, and President Bush is grateful for their service to the country."
Sawyer: "I want to turn to what the troops are going to be doing on the ground. And as we understand it, they're going to be performing kind of human buffers, troop strengths, security strength between, in some cases, Sunnis and Shiites going door to door. And of course, these are troops that do not speak Arabic, who have to make impossible distinctions, it seems, to a lot of people. My question is, we have talked to some U.S. troops who serve in Iraq, and I want to let you respond to them about what they want to say to you."
Unidentified Soldier #1: "It's either going to be Shiites or Sunnis win. They're going to kill each other and eventually one of them will win."
Unidentified Soldier #2: "I don't think we need to be here. I don't think we're changing anything or doing anything for, you know, the states that's going benefit us here."
Sawyer: "Sunnis, Shiites, we're in the middle, and there are a lot of people who say if they don't want to stop fighting, we can't stop them."
Bartlett: "Well very- that's exactly right, and President Bush will make very clear tonight, Diane, that Iraqis themselves have to solve the sectarian violence. We can't solve it for them. America can't want this more than they want it themselves."
Sawyer: "But why put more troops?"
Bartlett: "But on the other hand, but on the other hand, the Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces at this critical moment in this country's history needs our help. It will be Iraqis that are knocking on doors, it will be Iraqis that are leading these military operations."
Over on CBS, MRC's Mike Rule found that Harry Smith used his personal experiences in Iraq to argue that Iraq isn’t exactly a source of hope:
Smith: "We saw this with our own eyes; we were on Haifa Street last May, the Iraqi Army had control of the area but they couldn't stop the insurgency from returning. So yesterday, as a result, there was an all-day gun battle, bloodshed everywhere. Is 20,000 really enough to get the job done?"
Dan Bartlett: "Well, an important point is that the Iraqis are in the lead in that fight. U.S. troops came in and helped. Not one U.S. or Iraqi troop was lost, and they put a lot of damage on the insurgency. But you're right. You point to the very nub of the problem, is that we have to have enough Iraqi forces and U.S. forces either embedded, which Baker/Hamilton Commission recommended and which the President will adopt tonight in his address..."
Harry Smith: "Isn't this an admission that we have not had enough troops in Iraq in the first place, since day one?"
Dan Bartlett: "The president will say very clearly tonight that there were mistakes with the earlier operations, that it did not have enough Iraqi troops or U.S. troops...
Harry Smith: "How are you going to get the Iraqis to do what you just suggested, though? Because even last month, the Iraqis said, 'Well, we're going to look at these benchmarks. We're going to come to play. We're going to do all those things that the White House has suggested.' They haven't been able really to do any of them."
Dan Bartlett: "They actually made some very good progress, particularly on the oil law. There's been a political agreement--"
Harry Smith: "But we're talking about, we're talking about the very--the blood and guts issue of security in Baghdad, they've not been able to really do it."
Dan Bartlett: "There have been some very frank conversations with the government. What you will hear tonight from the President, he'll make very clearly that America's commitment is not open-ended, that benchmarks have to be met, that milestones have to be reached both on the security side but just as importantly on the political side and the economic side. It'll be unequivocal in President Bush's speech tonight that the Iraqis have to step up."
Harry Smith: "The president's approval ratings about this issue are really in the 20s. The Democrats have made clear in the last 24 hours they're at least going to propose resolutions to say this is not a good idea. Why should the American people have faith in the president at this moment?"
Dan Bartlett: "Well a vast majority of the American people are not satisfied with the progress in Iraq. President Bush is in their camp. He's not satisfied. He's going to say the strategy was not working; he's going to tell them specifically how we're going to fix the strategy to yield success. But at the end of the day, Harry, the point that all Americans have to come to and what members of Congress have to come to is that the stakes in Iraq are consequential to the security of the American people. There's no magic formula. The president will say that himself tonight, but this is the best way to succeed. And it's important right now that we give this an opportunity to let this plan succeed because it is the best chance for success."