A Question Russert Should Have Asked

Week in and week out, Tim Russert is the best interviewer on network television. But he didn’t perform to his normal high standard, when he interviewed President Bush for the February 8 edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The questions Russert asked Bush about U.S. intelligence on Iraq roughly mirrored the politically motivated accusations that Democratic presidential candidates have been flinging at Bush from the stump. These Democratic accusations are uniformly disingenuous, lacking the hard factual predicate that is the hallmark of the typical Russert question.

For example, Russert asked Bush: “How do you respond to critics who say that you brought the nation to war under false pretenses?” In asking this, Russert presented no analysis of the credibility of the “critics'” underlying assumption that Bush had any reason before the war to believe Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction.

What could Russert have asked that he didn’t? Here’s a suggestion:

“Let me read you, sir, a remarkable thing that David Kay told the Senate Armed Service Committee when he testified January 28. Kay said: ‘In interviewing the Republican Guard generals and Special Republican Guard generals and asking about their capabilities and having them [WMD], the assurance was they didn’t personally have them [WMD] and hadn’t seen them [WMD], but the units on their right or left had them [WMD].’ My question to you is: Given that even Iraqi Republican Guard generals were convinced that Iraq did have WMD, would it have been reasonable for the American President to assume that Iraq did not have WMD?”

Russert missed the chance to put this question to President Bush. He should not miss the chance to put it to Sen. John Kerry–the next time Kerry appears on “Meet the Press.”