Obama stays cool during O'Reilly inquisition
In first segment aired, Obama says surge succeededIt's been almost nine months to the day since Fox News's Bill O'Reilly tried to shove his way to an interview with Barack Obama during a New Hampshire campaign stop. The setting was a little more peaceful when the two finally sat down together Thursday, but O'Reilly was his good old fashioned bullying self.
In an interview in which the O'Reilly Factor host seemed as interested in hearing his own exhortations as Obama's answers, the Fox talker harangued Obama over an array of foreign policy issues.
O'Reilly kicked off the interview with a question no one could imagine anyone on the Fox News network posing to Republican candidate John McCain: "Do you believe we're in the middle of a war on terror?" (That O'Reilly apparently believed -- or wanted his viewers to believe -- there was a possibility that Obama would say no perhaps says as much about the brush with which Fox has tried to paint the Democratic candidate as anything else on the network.)
A day after Rudy Giuliani viciously -- and inaccurately -- mocked Democrats for failing to fetishize "Islamic terrorism," as the former New York Mayor himself is so fond of doing, Obama delivered a reasoned, concise answer about the need to "go after" terrorists while warning against the danger of lumping everyone together, as the Republicans are so fond of doing.
"Iran is a major threat, now ... they are not part of the same network [as al Qaeda]. You've got Shia and you've got Sunni," Obama said. "We've got to have the ability to distinguish between these groups.
"The war in Iraq is a good example, where I believe the administration lumped together, Saddam Hussein -- a terrible guy -- with al Qaeda, which had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein," Obama continued. "And as a consequence, we ended up, I think, misdirecting our resources."
O'Reilly continued to harp on Iran and its quest for a nuclear weapon. Obama said it would be "unacceptable" for Iran to get a nuclear weapon and he repeated his vow that military action would always remain an option at his disposal.
No answer he could give on the issue though -- aside, perhaps, from "the bombs start falling on Inauguration Day" -- seemed like it would have satisfied O'Reilly, who continued to press Obama on precisely what military action the candidate was planning for.
"Answer the question, senator," O'Reilly demanded, despite Obama's assurances that it would be irresponsible to tip his hand on military planning.
Exasperated, O'Reilly moved on to the war in Iraq, praising the Illinois senator's foresight in opposing the war but taking a particularly tough line towards his vote against the "troop surge" that began last Spring.
"I think you were desperately wrong on the surge, and I think you should admit it to the nation," O'Reilly scolded.
Obama acknowledged that the surge "succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated -- including President Bush," but he maintained that the political progress the surge was meant to foster has still failed to materialize. Furthermore, he said, a part of the reduction in violence needs to be credited to the Anbar Awakening, where Sunni tribal leaders in the province turned against the insurgency and began cooperating with Americans.
"We have reduced the violence, but the Iraqis still haven't taken responsibility," Obama said, accusing Iraq's government of failing to invest the country's massive oil wealth in its rebuilding.
The statements echoed views Obama expressed in a July New York Times column on his Iraq plans.
Again, O'Reilly hectored. The surge worked, he said simply, and in a heated back and forth, Obama let slip his most frank agreement with that assessment.
"I've already said, the surge succeeded beyond our wildest dreams," Obama said during the exchange, almost as an aside.
It was that line that led Fox's release of excerpts from the interview earlier Thursday.
Not 20 minutes after the interviewed aired -- and at least an hour after the excerpts were released -- Sen. Lindsey Graham took to the Republican National Convention stage in St. Paul, Minn., to inaccurately accuse Obama of not believing the surge had been a success.
One assumes they had Fox News on in all the RNC green rooms. Maybe Graham just wasn't paying attention.
New segments of the interview, conducted Thursday in York, Pa., will air Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on The O'Reilly Factor.
This video is from Fox's O'Reilly Factor, broadcast September 4, 2008.