NBC's Richard Engel has done some good reporting from Iraq. But scratch the reporter's surface, and you find a political partisan eager to echo the anti-Bush party line. Witness his exchange with Ari Fleischer on Morning Joe today. Engel twisted the former Bush press secretary's words, accusing him of alleging an Osama Bin Laden connection with Iraq. Fleischer had palpably said no such thing.
The springboard was Fleischer's citation of a 1998 OBL interview in which the terrorist boss said America was weak because it is unable to see through long wars. Fleischer went on to argue that America's resolve will be tested should things go badly wrong in Iraq or Afghanistan, thus putting under pressure the arbitrary dates that have been set for US withdrawal from those countries.
Engel jumped in to accuse Fleischer of claiming an OBL tie with Iraq. Even after Fleischer made explicitly clear he was alleging no such connection, Engel obdurately pressed his point.
View the video and observe as Engel does his best Olbermann-Maddow impression.
ARI FLEISCHER: If either place blows up, Barack Obama will face a very tough decision, just as George Bush did with the surge. What does he do? Does America still leave? Does America leave behind a worse Iraq in case the government is not able to hold it together. We have so much at stake in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I keep coming back to when you look at America of the 20th century. One of the reasons there was a lasting peace in Europe and a lasting peace in Asia is because of American influence and because the American people were willing to let our influence last, especially through the deployment of military forces that stayed for decades in Japan, in South Korea.
One last point: Osama Bin Laden gave an interview in 1998, ABC News, and in which he said, on the air, that America is weak because America is not able to see through long wars. America does not ever want to stay--[inaudible] Somalia. And we will outlast America. This is being tested. We'll find out what will happen in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's a great struggle of what the American people are prepared to accept or not prepared to accept . . .
RICHARD ENGEL: Just now you're making the same comparison, that Osama Bin Laden is tied to Iraq. Osama Bin Laden wasn't tied to Iraq. You just talked about how Osama Bin Laden, we have to keep fighting in Iraq and stay the course in Iraq.
FLEISCHER: I'm not saying he was tied to Iraq. The point I was making with Afghanistan and Iraq is the American will to stay for long periods of time. That's what's being tested. I didn't say he was tied to Iraq.
ENGEL: Why should it be tested in a war where you said was based on false intelligence? Why should we be, you know, we're going to let Osama Bin Laden win if we don't stay for a long time in Iraq. We went there for bad intelligence.
FLEISCHER: The question was, if things go bad in Iraq, will we withdraw the 50,000 remaining troops? My point was that's a future decision that President Obama will have to make, just as the withdrawal from Afghanistan--future decision. If conditions are terrible in both places, and we withdraw, and they become even worse, it's a fundamental decision President Obama will have to make. That's the point I'm making: it's about America's will to stay, or to leave.
ENGEL: I'm just saying, this whole association that's still out there in many people's minds that Iraq was somehow associated with 9-11.
FLEISCHER: You're stretching my point. I didn't say that. You're stretching my point.
ENGEL: All right: that's what I heard.
FLEISCHER [gesturing to rest of panel]: That's not what anybody else heard.
I don't see any shades of gray here. It is simply impossible to interpret Fleischer's statement as the allegation of a connection between Osama Bin Laden, Iraq and 9-11. Impossible, that is, unless you're a fierce anti-Bush partisan, as is apparently Richard Engel.