When Katie Couric told Haaretz that "The glory days of TV news are over," her words framed what looked like a lament, but her recent deeds make them seem like a threat. Her recent interview with Senator Barack Obama, at the very least, certainly failed to glorify any of the parties involved.
COURIC: Before the surge, as you know, Senator, there were 80 to 100 U.S. casualties a month, the country was rife with sectarian violence, and you raised a lot of eyebrows on this trip saying even knowing what you know now, you still would not have supported the surge. People may be scratching their heads and saying, "Why?"
OBAMA: Well ... because ... what I was referring to, and I've consistently referred to, is the need for a strategy that actually concludes our involvement in Iraq and moves Iraqis to take responsibility for the country.
COURIC: But didn't the surge ... help do that?
OBAMA: Let me finish, Katie. What happens is that if we continue to put $10 billion to $12 billion a month into Iraq, if we are willing to send as many troops as we can muster continually into Iraq? There's no doubt that that's gonna have an impact. But it doesn't meet our long-term strategic goal, which is to make the American people safer over the long term. If that means that we're detracting from our efforts in Afghanistan, where conditions are deteriorating, if it means that we are distracted from going after Osama bin Laden who is still sending out audio tapes and is operating training camps where we know terrorists' actions are being plotted. ...
COURIC: All that may be true. But do you not give the surge any credit for reducing violence in Iraq?
OBAMA: No, no ... of course I have. There is no doubt that the extraordinary work of our U.S. forces has contributed to a lessening of the violence, just as making sure that the Sadr militia stood down or the fact that the Sunni tribes decided to flip and work with us instead of with al-Qaeda - something that we hadn't anticipated happening.
All those things have contributed to a reduction in violence. So this, in no way, detracts from the great efforts of our young men and women in uniform. In fact, that's one of the most striking things about visiting Iraq is to see how dedicated they are, what a great job they do - all those things ... are critically important. What I'm saying is it does not solve the broader strategic question that we have been dealing with over the last five, six, seven years. And that is how do we take the limited resources we have, both militarily and financially, and apply them in such a way that we are making America as safe as possible? And I believe that my approach is the right one.
COURIC: But talking microcosmically, did the surge, the addition of 30,000 additional troops ... help the situation in Iraq?
OBAMA: Katie, as ... you've asked me three different times, and I have said repeatedly that there is no doubt that our troops helped to reduce violence. There's no doubt.
COURIC: But yet you're saying ... given what you know now, you still wouldn't support it ... so I'm just trying to understand this.
OBAMA: Because ... it's pretty straightforward. By us putting $10 billion to $12 billion a month, $200 billion, that's money that could have gone into Afghanistan. Those additional troops could have gone into Afghanistan. That money also could have been used to shore up a declining economic situation in the United States. That money could have been applied to having a serious energy security plan so that we were reducing our demand on oil, which is helping to fund the insurgents in many countries. So those are all factors that would be taken into consideration in my decision-- to deal with a specific tactic or strategy inside of Iraq.
COURIC: And I really don't mean to belabor this, Senator, because I'm really, I'm trying to figure out your position. Do you think the level of security in Iraq ... would exist today without the surge?
OBAMA: Katie, I have no idea what would have happened had we applied my approach, which was to put more pressure on the Iraqis to arrive at a political reconciliation. So this is all hypotheticals. What I can say is that there's no doubt that our U.S. troops have contributed to a reduction of violence in Iraq. I said that, not just today, not just yesterday, but I've said that previously. What that doesn't change is that we've got to have a different strategic approach if we're going to make America as safe as possible.
You rarely see an interview couch such hopeless inanity in the pretense of not getting an answer to the question, but, what can I say? Couric's a whiz at this. You see the problems coming a mile away when Couric frames the discussion as a response to people "scratching their heads," people "asking why," and people whose "eyebrows" are raised. Such people, of course, do not exist and cannot be named. Tis the beginning of a Straw Man argument, which has sadly become the first resort of many in the press. From there, the line of interrogation is rivetingly unconcerned with substantive analysis of Obama's Iraq War position - it's a silly little trap of false logic, in which Couric attempts to get Obama to admit to the obvious - that 100,000+ troops in Iraq have affected the conditions in the country, and hang a false admission of "Surge" efficicacy around his neck.
Obama seems to understand the trap is being set, but he disappointingly fails to expose it for what it is. In his foreign policy speech, delivered before his trip, Obama did a fine job in differentiating the tactic of the "Surge" as but a thin sliver of tactic within a larger foreign policy strategy that has failed to deliver any of the outcomes that were promised. Even if we could cast the "Surge" as an unqualified success, the overall strategy has netted America four major failures. And within the larger context of a failure to find WMDs, a failure to improve America's security, a failure to thwart or even impede al Qaeda in the wake of 9/11, and a failure to prevent malign regional forces like Iran and Hezbollah from increasing their regional influence, the "Surge" is entirely without relevance - a fourth quarter field goal when you're down four touchdowns.
All of this should have been, and likely is, apparent to Obama, but with Couric, his decision to get Talmudic - to borrow an appropriate term - does him no good at all.
Still, it is Couric who carries the greater malignancy in this exchange, and there's no greater offense than her question, "But talking microcosmically, did the surge, the addition of 30,000 additional troops ... help the situation in Iraq?" WIth that word, microcosm, one can see the main toxin that's embedded in Surge Logic (TM) in high-contrast clarity. That is Couric carrying water for the McCain campaign, attempting to assert that the "Surge" is somehow a "microcosm" of the War in Iraq, the logic being that if we can admit that the "Surge" had any positive effect on the conditions in Iraq, then we must also admit that the War On Iraq was a success.
Against this toxin, Obama needs to come hard with the antidote. Making the Four Failures, outlined above, a central part of the puchback, is an essential first step. Obama would also be well-served to hit back with some Iraq War history - explicating how violence diminished as a result as some pre-Surge events, like the completion of Baghdad's sectarian cleansing, and the Anbar awakening.
And the latter point is critical, because Obama's opponent, John McCain, recently gave an interview in which he either demonstrated a complete lack of awareness of his beloved "Surge" or chose to actively lie about it. The interviewer on that occasion? You got it! KATIE COURIC.
As Ilan Goldenberg wrote, "This is not controversial history. It is history that anyone trying out for Commander in Chief must understand when there are 150,000 American troops stationed in Iraq. It is an absolutely essential element to the story of the past two years. YOU CANNOT GET THIS WRONG."
But McCain did, and Couric didn't offer up any of the same furtive, insistent questioning. The critical difference? Couric's brain is too stuffed full of idiot oppositional talking points and Straw Man arguments to actually know anything about the Iraq War. And that's why the Glory Days of TV News are over.