In an interview with Hillary Clinton on Tuesday’s CBS "Early Show," about the upcoming congressional testimony of General David Petraeus on the Iraq war, co-host Harry Smith began by asking a question that perfectly toed the Democratic Party line: "David Petraeus is going to come before this committee this morning. He's going to say in more -- you know, more elaborate words than I will right now, that the surge is working. The number of attacks in Baghdad have more than doubled in the last two months. About a dozen U.S. servicemen have been killed there in just the last several days. Do you think the surge is working?" Clinton was very appreciative of Smith’s softball and let him know: "Well Harry, I think you just made a summary argument against the position that it's working."
Smith’s claim that attacks in Baghdad "more than doubled" recently was accurate according to an April 8 New York Times article. However, what Smith failed to also point out was the dramatic decline of attacks during the surge, which preceded the latest round of violence.
Smith later asked about the possibility of a civil war in Iraq: "I guess the question is if U.S. troops are drawn down there, what ends up happening to this country? Does it fall into what a lot of people believe is an inevitable civil war?" Clinton replied:
Well, there's a low grade civil war going on right now...But one thing we know for sure is continuing the Bush policy, the Bush/McCain policy now is not a recipe for success. It is to continue to mire the United States, lead to more loss of our young men and women, more injuries and, frankly, I think destabilize our position globally and divert our ability to deal with Afghanistan and other problems that I think have a much more direct interest for the United States.
Smith then observed: "That's what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has talked about." However, according to another New York Times article from April 6, Chairman Mike Mullen supported maintaining the troop surge: "The Army and the rest of the service chiefs have endorsed General Petraeus’s recommendations for continued high troop levels in Iraq. But Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army Chief of Staff, and their top deputies also have warned that the war in Iraq should not be permitted to inflict an unacceptable toll on the military as a whole." Smith mis-characterized Mullen’s statement and left out this more complete context.
Here is the full transcript of the segment:
HARRY SMITH: Breaking news this morning, fireworks on Capitol Hill. The general in charge of U.S. policy in Iraq defends his strategy and comes face-to-face with three presidential candidates.
SMITH: In just a couple of minutes, Senator Hillary Clinton will join us on this very big day on Capitol Hill. The Senator, along with Senators Obama and McCain, going to be questioning the top commander in Iraq, General Petraeus, about the course of U.S. policy there. And with all three candidates competing for attention, we're going to see if, at the end of the day, military or political strategy was at the top of the agenda.
MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: But first, high drama is expected on Capitol Hill today as all three presidential hopefuls come face-to-face with the top American commander in Iraq. CBS News Capitol Hill Correspondent Chip Reid is live this morning. Chip, good morning.
CHIP REID: Well, good morning, Maggie. It's been almost seven months since General David Petraeus last walked into a congressional hearing room, a hearing room that today could turn into a stage for political theater. When General David Petraeus last appeared before Congress, he said the surge was working. This time he's expected to argue it's been so successful, troop levels can be brought down to pre-surge levels by summer. But while military strategy is the topic of today's hearing, political strategy may rule the day with all three presidential candidates expected to jump into the fray. John McCain, a staunch supporter of the war, is expected by many to lash out at Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, as he did Monday, angrily accusing them of making campaign promises they can't keep.
JOHN MCCAIN: To promise a withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, regardless of the calamitous consequences to the Iraqi people is the height of irresponsibility. It is a failure of leadership.
REID: All eyes would then turn to Hillary Clinton, who sits on the same committee, watching for her to return fire. Later in the day at a second hearing, Barack Obama will get his chance to take aim at McCain, as he did in a statement Monday, accusing McCain of a failure of leadership for supporting an open-ended occupation of Iraq that has made the American people less safe. Now, the last time Petraeus testified, of course, he said the surge was working. But when he was asked whether the surge was making the American people safer, he said he didn't know. He hadn't thought it through. Well, with seven months to think about it, you can bet he'll be asked about that again. Harry.
HARRY SMITH: Alright, thanks very much, Chip Reid on Capitol Hill. Joining us now from Washington is Senator Hillary Clinton. Good morning Senator.
HILLARY CLINTON: Good morning.
SMITH: David Petraeus is going to come before this committee this morning. He's going to say in more -- you know, more elaborate words than I will right now, that the surge is working. The number of attacks in Baghdad have more than doubled in the last two months. About a dozen U.S. servicemen have been killed there in just the last several days. Do you think the surge is working?
HILLARY CLINTON: Well Harry, I think you just made a summary argument against the position that it's working. You know, a year ago we were told that the purpose of it was to give the Iraqi government the time to make the decisions that only they can make for themselves on how they're going to allocate oil, end the, you know, political disputes and the sectarian violence and all of the other decisions that are on their plate. That hasn't happened, and even General Petraeus a few weeks ago admitted that the political progress has not been what he would have wanted or that we expected --
SMITH: Although, although, although --
CLINTON: So I just don't understand how they can make that case.
SMITH: Although some people have said this has given Maliki the cover to go after the Mehdi Army, to go after these separate, you know, factions, rogue factions of Muqtada al Sadr, that maybe, in fact, this has helped Maliki to show he has a little spine now.
CLINTON: Well, we'll see. It didn't look very successful in his efforts in Basra. And the lead in the fight against the Mehdi Army in Baghdad is by the U.S. military. So you know, I am very unhappy with, you know, what has transpired this past year because I really believe that we're just marking time until it is absolutely time to change and that won't happen apparently under President Bush until next year. And when I'm president, we will, we'll begin to withdraw our troops. And you know, Senator McCain is a friend of mine, I obviously respect his service to our country, but the failure of leadership here is the Bush Administration, it's the failure to continue this conflict. It's the failure to recognize that there is no military solution.
SMITH: I guess the question is if U.S. troops are drawn down there, what ends up happening to this country? Does it fall into what a lot of people believe is an inevitable civil war?
CLINTON: Well, there's a low grade civil war going on right now. It's Shiite on Shiite, it's Sunni and Shiite. And I think that, of course, there are very difficult days ahead and the consequences are going to be challenging. But one thing we know for sure is continuing the Bush policy, the Bush/McCain policy now is not a recipe for success. It is to continue to mire the United States, lead to more loss of our young men and women, more injuries and, frankly, I think destabilize our position globally and divert our ability to deal with Afghanistan and other problems that I think have a much more direct interest for the United States.
SMITH: That's what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has talked about. And very quickly, you yesterday advocated the boycotting of the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games. I have just a few seconds. Could you elaborate on that just very quickly?
CLINTON: Well, I think that President Bush should decide not to attend the opening ceremonies unless and until the Chinese do what the world is calling for them, which is to end the oppression in Tibet and give back religious and cultural freedom to the Tibetans and do more to help the world end the genocide in Sudan. We need to put that pressure on the government of China. And I think President Bush should do that. And I hope that he will.
SMITH: Alright, Senator Clinton, thanks very much for your time this morning. Do appreciate it.
CLINTON: Thank you. Good to talk to you, Harry.