On Wednesday night, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly pressed NBC’s Ted Koppel on the state of the country: “...a new Wall Street Journal poll says just 20% of Americans believe the country is headed in the right direction....do you believe the USA is in bad shape right now, Mr. Koppel? And if so, why?”
Koppel dismissed the public’s pessimism and tried to minimize the threat from ISIS terrorists: “I don't think the country is in as bad a shape as your question implies. I think we’re scaring ourselves to death with this ISIS threat....I don't think we need to worry about invasions of hostile Muslims.”
He sarcastically added: “We could surround this country with a moat and put burning oil in there. That's not going to protect us in this day and age. We live in a different time.”
Moments later, Koppel fretted that the United States was creating more terrorism: “Bill, what we're doing is the same thing we did after 9/11. We turned Al Qaeda into the biggest international franchise since McDonald's.” O’Reilly replied: “We destroyed them drove them into the hills of Pakistan.” Koppel declared: “...yes, we did. And then we made the mistake of invading Iraq.”
Koppel concluded that if President George W. Bush had “pulled out of Afghanistan after four or five or six months, the world would have said, ‘Way to go, George Bush.’”
Here is a transcript of the December 17 exchange:
8:48 AM ET
BILL O’REILLY: As we reported yesterday, a new Wall Street Journal poll says just 20% of Americans believe the country is headed in the right direction. Joining us now from Washington, journalist Ted Koppel, who’s new book, Lights Out: A Cyberattack. A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath, has become a big bestseller, it is a good book. So, do you believe the USA is in bad shape right now, Mr. Koppel? And if so, why?
TED KOPPEL: Well first of all, Mr. O’Reilly, after 30-some-odd years, we can probably go on a first-name basis. But I don't think the country is in as bad a shape as your question implies. I think we’re scaring ourselves to death with this ISIS threat. ISIS, to the degree that it is a threat at all, is much more of a threat in terms of what it can do ultimately with a cyberattack. Now that obviously goes back to my book.
KOPPEL: I don't think we need to worry about invasions of hostile Muslims. We could surround this country with a moat and put burning oil in there. That's not going to protect us in this day and age. We live in a different time.
O’REILLY: Alright, let me challenge that. Number one, I don't think it’s just ISIS. I think the economy is really frustrating working Americans. They can’t get ahead, median income is down, and they don't see how they’re ever going to get it up. So therefore, it’s a dual thing, it’s terrorism and it's the economy.
Now as far as ISIS in concerned, their goal is to terrorize the United States and they can do that in a myriad of ways. They don't have to invade us, alright. But they can do chronic attacks, attack after attack after attack, and psychologically debilitate this country.
So, I believe that President Obama is a weak president all around, but particularly weak in foreign affairs. If I were president, I would mobilize NATO, which you can do in Article 5, as you well know, because two countries have been attacked, France and the USA. And you can use the NATO resources to send a message to the jihadists that you’re gonna get crushed and you’re gonna get hurt and it’s gonna happen to you. Would I be wrong in doing that?
KOPPEL: No, you wouldn't be wrong. But I think you're missing the central point, Bill. A, I don't disagree with you with regard to the foreign policy of this administration, I don't think it’s been a particularly good one. However, I think the President is on the right track in not wanting to alienate the entire Muslim world. In addition –
O’REILLY: But why would NATO do that?
KOPPEL: Well, hold on just a second, Bill. I think in addition to mobilizing NATO, you’ve got to mobilize the rest of the Muslim world.
O’REILLY: Absolutely. Absolutely. Saudi Arabia today announced a coalition against ISIS.
O’REILLY: If you mobilize NATO, alright, then have you a power structure in which to protect the refugees and to welcome the Muslim nations that want to help us. But right now, we've got nothing. And it’s going to be a drip, drip, drip until Americans riot in the streets. Now, this is all led –
KOPPEL: What we are doing, Bill –
O’REILLY: Go ahead.
KOPPEL: Bill, what we're doing is the same thing we did after 9/11. We turned Al Qaeda into the biggest international franchise since McDonald's.
O’REILLY: And we destroyed them. We destroyed them.
KOPPEL: No, we –
O’REILLY: We destroyed them drove them into the hills of Pakistan.
KOPPEL: To the degree – yes, we did. And then we made the mistake of invading Iraq.
O’REILLY: That was a mistake.
KOPPEL: You know what, what I'm saying to you Bill, is I think George W. Bush had exactly the right idea when he went after Al Qaeda with special operations, CIA and air power.
O’REILLY: No quarrel.
KOPPEL: If he had have pulled out of Afghanistan after four or five or six months, the world would have said, “Way to go, George Bush.”
O’REILLY: I have no quarrel with that, but I do disagree with you about the ISIS threat.