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RussertWatch: Perles of Wisdom, Not of Regret

Mar 18, 2007 | Updated May 25, 2011

Greetings and welcome to this week's edition of RussertWatch, wherein we watch Tim Russert, Meet The Press and all his delightful guests from week to week. I'm Glynnis MacNicol, contributor to Eat The Press, and I thought I'd take a look at what Tim & Co. had to say on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the Iraq War — not to mention on the heels of the Libby verdict and Valerie Plame's extraordinary testimony this week. Plus, Tom DeLay's got a book out! This week's episode was sure to be a barn-burner.

Senator Chuck Schumer was first up, in to discuss the firing of eight US Attorneys, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' possible resignation as a result of the scandal, and his advice on how the White House should handle the whole debacle (Schumer thinks they should force Gonzales' resignation in an effort to "clear the air" — a nice sentiment but we're not holding our breath).

His big news was that Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle Sampson is apparently ready to testify regarding his role in the firings; Politico suggests this revelation could put "more pressure on other administration officials to come forward, if Sampson does actually appear." Schumer also went to repeated lengths to explain why these attorney firings were different than the blanket firings of all US attorneys that normally accompany a change in administration ("repeated" because Russert kept bringing up the examples of previous firings — was this in lieu of a Republican guest, we wondered, or were the purported right-leaning tendencies of the Sunday morning shows showing through?). Schumer emphasized the selectiveness here: This wasn't a blanket firing, this was picking off specific attorneys one by one, and for wholly political reasons.

Schumer did, however, have this eyebrow-raiser:

Well, the investigation is moving along ever since it started when we were first told-- when we asked just the question why were these seven U.S. attorneys fired, and they said, well, they all had bad records. And then we got hold of their evaluations, and they were all excellent. And then we found misstatement after misstatement

Hold on. When we were first told. When we asked the question. Let's take a moment, shall we, to give some credit where credit is due, and point out who was doing the telling, and who was asking the questions. Because, yet again, it was, the blogsphere (Talking Points Memo, we're talking about you) that initially grabbed onto this story, and ran with it, until it was finally picked up by the MSM. Blog power! At any rate, that was it from Schumer; a full transcript of his remarks can be found here.

Next up: A round-table, to provide and "in depth" discussion on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Participants were the aforementioned Tom DeLay, former Republican congressman from Texas (an interesting choice considering the circumstances under which he left office ), and current author of No Retreat, No Surrender (not to be confused with the Bruce Springsteen song, this title is apparently a Spartan battle cry, which coincidentally also appears in the new movie 300 - we're sure Bruce will be thrilled to hear it); former Bush adviser Richard Perle, (yes, the same Perle who suggested that he wouldn't be surprised if in a year there was a square in Baghdad named after Bush); former congressman and current head of Win Without War, Tom Andrews ; current congressman Joe Sestak (D-PA), who is also a retired Navy Vice Admiral, and the highest-ranking military officer ever to serve in Congress.

Round table tally: three formers and a current. Good, promising, line-up. We were hopeful it might lead to some interesting conversation, perhaps some pointed questions, maybe even some concessions of bad judgment. We also assumed, wrongly it turns out, that considering the upcoming anniversary, and the recent outcome of the Libby Trial, and the fact that Russert himself was a headliner at that same trial, and the fact that Valerie Plame herself testified in front of Congress this week, that part of the "in-depth discussion" might involve some "discussion" of these topics, or at least a mention, or at least an inference. But much like the hoped-for Bush Square in Baghdad these topics were nowhere to be found. Their absence, however, spoke volumes.

First question: "Is the war in Iraq worth the cost in life and treasure?"

[Is this really, four years in, what the first question should be? Shouldn't the first question be something along the lines of, say, "Has the country been misled by the administration and a compliant press into a war in which there is no easy way out?" Oh, wait, that's an easy one, the answer is "Yes."]

Over to Delay who says:

"We seem to forget that we are at war [really? who exactly is forgetting this?], and when you're at war, you've got to fight that war to win rather than fight the war for political posturing. We've had to write a complete new war manual on how to fight terrorists that want to kill women and children."

This would be a reasonable time for Russert to point out that there is not, nor has there ever been, a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. Instead Russert directs the exact same question to former congressman Andrews, who does the pointing out for him:

"You know, Tim, it's incredible to me to hear Mr. DeLay start his answer with--to your question by saying that, you know, we were attacked on 9/11 in answer to a question about Iraq. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. We know that for a fact."

Not at all deterred by this, Russert shoots the same question to Perle, who does the deterring for him, sort of:

"Forgive me for saying it, but I think it's the wrong question. It's a bit academic for one thing."

Oooh, academic. Perle goes to on to say the question we should be asking ourselves now is "What is going to make America safer?" According to him, it will not be a withdrawal from Iraq.

"So the question the country faces now is not is this a reason--is this a bargain, is it a reasonable price. The question is what do we do. And I think we have to win this war, and I hope that the new strategy that's been adopted will enable us to do that."

Yes, and thank goodness we've got you around to give us all advice! Over to Congressman Sestak, who prior to answering the question gives the viewers (and voters we imagine) his Iraq bona fides before laying out in detail how we wrongly approached the war.

After this, Russert follows up on Perle's point as to whether a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq will say to terrorist that the United States can be defeated? There follows a lot of back and forth-ing about whether leaving Iraq will encourage the terrorists or discourage them (Sestak and Andrews say we should get out, muster our resources and put out attention where it belongs, namely Afghanistan and Iran. Perle and DeLay say we should stay. Shocker). Throughout this, the majority of the round-table discussion Russert interjects only to allow one or more of the guests space to make their points.

Finally another question from Russert:

"Four years into the war there are many critics, Congressman DeLay, who are saying that leading up to the war, the debate in Congress, when you were majority leader and the president and the vice president came forward and said, "Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, and we will find them. We do not need several hundred thousand troops as General Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, said. Lawrence Lindsay, the chief economic adviser of the White House was dismissed because he said the war may cost $200 billion. There would not be sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites. Based on all those, what we now can see were misjudgments, are you willing to concede that serious errors and mistakes were made and perhaps those who are now criticizing the management of the war have the opportunity to be listened to as providing an alternative to something that has gone wrong?"

DeLay obfuscates by saying that he along with the rest of America is "frustrated". Russert interjects by pointing out that in his new book DeLay actually commends Rumsfeld's "strong and effective leadership". DeLay responds by saying he understood his vote in Congress to be about the "war on terror and not just Iraq". Russert doesn't dispute any of this. For a second it looks like it might get heated when Russert brings up a comment DeLay made in his column questioning the patriotism of congressman (and protesters, even the Christian ones, outside the White House yesterday) who opposed the war. But Sestak, the congressman sitting beside him doesn't take the bait instead turning to DeLay and saying "While I may have disagreed with you, I respected your office, that that is the constitutional duty of Congress, to take pride for the common defense."

The show ended shortly thereafter — without mention of Valerie Plame or any "in-depth" analyses that we could see of how the country found itself in this mess (like, say, an expression of regret from Richard Perle). Instead, the show concluded with Russert grinning and holding up DeLay's new book to the camera. Sigh. If its Sunday, it's Meet the Press.