It was the worst of times, it was the best of times on this morning's "Today." Throughout the show's long opening segment on Iraq, and regardless of the visuals: from David Gregory to President Bush, troops on the ground, Nancy Pelosi, Gordon Smith, etc., the screen graphic continued to skeptically ask "Lost Cause?"
So when Meredith Vieira began her subsequent interview of Ted Kennedy, there was every reason to expect her to lob softballs to the senator on the legislation he's introducing requiring Pres. Bush to obtain specific congressional authorization of a surge.
Surprisingly, that was not the case.
View an edited video clip of the interview here.
From her opening question, Vieira challenged Kennedy: "To put it bluntly, sir, I believe that you think that the President has botched up Iraq pretty badly, and I know you're going to propose legislation in the next few days that would force the president to seek congressional approval for a troop surge in Iraq. But just two days ago your Democratic colleague, Sen. Joseph Biden, said of a potential surge 'as a practical matter, there's no way to say, Mr. President, stop.' So what exactly are you proposing, sir?"
When Kennedy responded that his legislation would require the president to come back to Congress to get the authority for a surge, Vieira interjected: "But senator, doesn't he already have that authority, and doesn't he set policy?"
A bit later, she flatly asked: "Do you believe, Senator, that we should cut funding for the war and begin withdrawing our troops immediately?" When Kennedy answered "no," that he is just looking to stop the surge, Vieira replied: "but I understand, Senator, that you would like to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq in the next few months." Kennedy acknowledged that was true.
Then, surprisingly, Vieira asked: "what would happen, what would we be leaving behind, sir, if we withdrew troops?"
Kennedy made a shocking allegation in reply. Not merely did he claim that there is a civil war in Iraq, but that "most of the generals that are there that have testified before the committee think that the American presence is actually enhancing the civil war at the present time."
By "enhancing" Kennedy clearly meant "exacerbating." It's true that a number of military leaders have expressed doubts about a surge. But if "most of the generals" think our presence is making matters worse, that would be an argument not merely against a surge but for outright withdrawal. If they have so argued, it's certainly news to me. Can Kennedy document his explosive charge?
Vieira continued with her probing line of questioning: "Do we have an obligation to fix the mess that you believe we created? When responded that we have an obligation to protect American troops, Vieira interjected "but does that mean we pull out?"
Vieira's closing question: "Do you believe we will ultimately prevail in Iraq, or do you believe it is a lost cause?" Thus put on the spot, Kennedy claimed that he didn't think it was a lost cause, "but a very difficult one."
Hard to say whether Meredith was responding to the recent criticism of NBC's liberal tilt, but there's no denying that this was a solid journalistic probing of Kennedy's positions.
Mark was in Iraq in November. Contact him at email@example.com