Let's give Katie Couric (and her producer Rick Kaplan) some credit for doing a better job interviewing Syrian dictator Bashar Assad then Diane Sawyer's flippant what's-on-your-iPod interview back in February. On Friday's edition of The Early Show, Couric appeared live to introduce the taped piece. She pressed the Syrian leader on his support for insurgents going across his border into Iraq, and even aggressively pushed him with a quote from Sen. Joseph Lieberman arguing that "The notion that Al Qaeda recruits are slipping into and through the Damascus airport unbeknownst to you and others is totally unbelievable. It is therefore time to demand that the Syrian regime stop playing travel agent for Al Qaeda in Iraq."
Couric explained "during that interview, he denied that Syria was as big a feeding point for terrorists going into Iraq as the United States contends." MRC's Kyle Drennen captured the transcript:
Bashar Al Assad: "What do they do, those terrorists in Iraq? They kill civilians. They create chaos. What interests have Syria in having chaos in Iraq? Chaos is contagious."
Couric: "Does that mean you support a stable, democratic Iraq?"
Assad: "Definitely, for our interests first of all, and for Iraq's interests second. Otherwise, the whole region, and maybe later, indirectly, the rest of the world will be suffering."
Couric: "U.S. Officials have said 80% of Al Qaeda in Iraq suicide bombers have entered through Syria at a rate of 60 to 80 every month. What have you done to crack down on this problem?"
Assad: "These are false allegations. Who are they? What their names? Actually, all these allegations just to divert attention, for the people, that the problem is political. It's not related to Al Qaeda. It's political problem in Iraq."
Couric: "So you're denying that any suicide bombers or terrorists in Iraq are coming from your country?"
Assad: "No, that's not the issue. Because any country in the world cannot seal its border. And the example is your border with Mexico. Nobody can seal its border."
Couric: "Let me read an op-ed by Senator Joe Lieberman that was recently published. "Syrian President Bashar Al Assad cannot seriously claim that he is incapable of exercising effective control over the main airport in his capital city. The notion that Al Qaeda recruits are slipping into and through the Damascus airport unbeknownst to you and others is totally unbelievable. It is therefore time to demand that the Syrian regime stop playing travel agent for Al Qaeda in Iraq."
Assad: "Well, that is nonsense. If we have any information about any terrorists coming through the borders, the legal border, the airport, or the other borders, we will capture him right away."
Couric: "You say that chaos does not work to Syria's advantage."
Couric: "So you support the U.S. efforts to help establish a democracy in Iraq?"
Assad: "There's no -- if they only talk about military, numbers of soldier, raising of the number, or making draw-down. That's only what they talk about. There's no serious political process supported by the Americans so far."
Couric: "But I was in Iraq, in Anbar Province. President Bush and his other top officials were meeting with Prime Minister Maliki and his top leaders, trying to move democracy forward. Why do you say there's no political process going on?"
Assad: "We're talking about the results. It's getting worse every day. Nothing is better. Sometimes it gets better, but it's like flash in the pan---"
Couric: "Do you not support Prime Minister Maliki?"
Assad: "We support any prime minister who work for his country. I have good relation with him. He came to Syria a few weeks ago and we had very good meeting."
Couric: "Do you think his government has the potential to be is successful."
Assad: "We have to ask the question first, does, do they have authority to be successful? Do the Americans allow them to do what they have to do? From our knowledge, according to many Iraqi officials, they don't have the authority. The American leads everything in Iraq."
Couric: "Let's look forward. Do you believe that U.S. troops should withdraw from Iraq?"
Assad: "Definitely yes, as a principle. How and when, this is the Iraqi issue. We cannot decide it as Syria."
Couric: "Are you concerned, though, Mr. President, that if U.S. troops do withdraw, and do it too precipitously, the country will break out in an all-out civil war?"
Assad: "Some say, if they leave, it will get worse, maybe. So this is not the debate. As principle, they have to leave. In parallel, you have to have political process going with the withdrawal, in order not to have this chaos getting worse and Iraq get unstable again."
Couric: "Do you want to see America succeed in Iraq?"
Assad: "If the successful means political stability, we don't have any problem because we support any country in the world, including the United States, in succeeding in Iraq in that regard."
American TV viewers would have a lot more respect for tough questions to President Bush if the networks preformed like Couric did here, and pressed foreign leaders and international bureaucrats with the same kind of hard-driving inquiry as Bush receives in the East Room or the Rose Garden.