Tim Russert did the nation a grave disservice by conducting a supremely superficial interview of Dick Cheney on Meet the Press today. Russert lacked either the knowledge or the will to ask the questions that would have shown that Cheney's blithe comments were total nonsense.
Russert was so involved in assembling and showing video clips that he never got to the proven facts that contradict Cheney. Russert has to be the most superficial person that has ever been given such a national platform. No wonder Cheney goes on his show.
The most amazing moment came near the end, when Russert asked Cheney whether Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), had not been correct that Iraq had no nuclear weapons. Cheney responded, "I haven't, I haven't looked at it. I'd have to go back and look at it again."
One of the key points about our invasion of Iraq is that we disregarded the opinions of ElBaradei and his conventional weapons counterpart Hans Blix, who said that Iraqi cooperation with the inspections was increasing and that an attack was premature. The idea that Cheney has never looked at this is either a complete lie or chilling evidence that the administration is in its own private Idaho, playing with the future of the world.
As usual, Cheney said that Sadaam "kicked out the inspectors." Russert apparently does not know that the inspectors returned on November 27 2002 and that Blix reported on the increasing cooperation several times, including a report on March 7, 2003 describing three months of inspections. It made sense to threaten war to get the inspectors back in. It did not make sense to attack anyway.
Russert also let Cheney say that he has not seen or had a chance to read the Senate Intelligence Committee Report released late Friday that says that not only was there no link between Sadaam and Al Qaeda, but that Sadaam was trying to kill or capture al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The report also faults the administration for relying on Ahmad Chalabi. Shouldn't Russert have asked why Cheney did not get a chance to read the report during the year that committee chairman Pat Roberts has been suppressing it?
In many other areas, Russert did not follow up. Here are a few:
1. The cooking of the intelligence. It is generally accepted that intelligence reports that did not coincide with the plan to attack Iraq were ignored and that only a worst case scenario was considered. Cobra II and Fiasco are two good accounts and should have been sources for questions.
2. The lack of post war planning. Cheney did not think there would be these problems. Many others did and Russert should be able to cite chapter and verse. The muzzling of General Shinseki, who testified on February 25, 2003 before the Senate Armed Services Committee that he thought an occupying force of several hundred thousand men would be needed to stabilize postwar Iraq, is one example that should be known to schoolchildren. Again, try reading Cobra II, Fiasco or the Wikipedia.
3. Greeted as liberators. Russert played his tape of Cheney responding to Russert's pre-war question of whether we would be greeted as liberators or conquerors. Here is Cheney's response today:
"You . . . gave me a choice, Tim, 'Will you be greeted as occupiers or liberators?' and I said we'll be greeted as liberators. And we were."
We were? To the extent that we needn't have planned for any problems? You would have expected Russert to at least have thought this one through since he has turned the exchange into an MSNBC road show of sorts.
This is just a sample, but it is a fair sample. There also were no real questions about the various domestic spying programs or any follow-up to Cheney's opinion that the Geneva Convention should not apply to the War on Terror.
It is a shame that NBC, which has reporters such as David Gregory who are well versed in the facts, continues to give its top interviewing job to this lightweight. Well not literally a lightweight, but you know what I mean, right Big Russ?