Asking the tough questions

Worst case scenarios happen.

That is the lesson of President Bush's troop-lite war in Iraq, his attention-diverted war to crush al Qaeda and get Osama bin Laden, dead or alive.

That is the lesson we can only hope the president has finally learned. That is also the lesson we in the news media must finally learn as we go about our job of covering and questioning the politicians who are now running to be our next president.

Because we now know that worst case scenarios can and sometimes do happen — we must finally start demanding that Democratic and Republican presidential candidates publicly address the real-world consequences of their proposals, their congressional votes and even their campaign trail utterances about the war in Iraq and war on terror.

Especially in the presidential campaign debates, which are indeed very early but are now very important — because they are about decisions that the current president must make right now that will mean the difference between life or death, serious injury or security for hundreds of thousands of troops and civilians in Iraq. And — depending on how the next round of worst case terror scenarios turn out — potentially for millions of people in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

So far those in our craft who have been questioning the candidates have fallen short of fully serving the public interest by failing to press the candidates to face up to the real life-and-death consequences of what they are proposing. That is because it is sometimes hard for anyone to get a politician to go beyond his or her carefully crafted proposals and made-for-TV carrots-and-shticks. But also because too many of the journalists who twirl in the campaign window don't seem to try.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer came close the other night, as he was alternately strolling and patrolling, moderating and interrogating eight stationary Democrats who want to be president. It happened after all the Democrats except Joe Biden championed voting to cut off funds for the Iraq war — as a way of forcing the president to end the war.

Finally, Blitzer turned to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has urged action to halt the genocide in the Sudan, and asked him to apply the same moral standard to Iraq: "What if some of the …supporters of this war are right, and a unilateral, quick U.S. withdrawal from Iraq … does lead not only to an increased civil war but to genocide in Iraq? What moral responsibility does the United States have to deal with that scenario?" Richardson hopped on his debate bicycle, pedaling in all other directions. (Lotta time in the region, was United Nations ambassador, resolution for de-authorizing…)

"But what about genocide?" Blitzer interrupted. "What about the possibility of genocide?" Richardson tried to make it a Sudan question: "Obviously genocide is something — in Darfur — you know I have been involved in that issue. I believe what we need to do there is stop this genocide."

Blitzer soldiered on: "But what about Iraq, if it were, God forbid, to happen?" Now Richardson began bicycling around the region: "Well, obviously I would keep troops in Kuwait, where they are wanted. I would move them to Afghanistan to fight al Qaeda. But I believe that our troops have become a target. Our troops right now have done a magnificent job…."

Blitzer unilaterally withdrew, asking a new question of a new candidate. But what if the CNN anchor had held his high ground, insisting every candidate address the possibility of genocide in Iraq after the U.S. goes home — including America's moral and military obligation? We must demand that all advocating a troop pullout and funding cutoff publicly address what would happen because of that. Would smaller numbers of U.S. troops be more vulnerable, increasing death rates? Would Iraq become a new safe haven for al Qaeda? Will terrorists use Iraq as a base for new attacks in Europe? In America? If so, what will you do about it?

We must demand that all who favor staying the course (whatever that is) publicly confront the consequences: How will the war be won — and what if it cannot be won? How many more American deaths will occur? Will they have died in vain? Will they become targets for terrorists? Recruiting props for terrorists around the world — worsening the war on terror that was America's initial pursuit after 9/11? If so, what will you do about it?

Those who want to be president must be pressed to publicly face the real consequences of their plans and words — including the worst case scenarios they prefer not to see.

(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)


  1. Richard Kanegis

    Richard Kanegis

    Martin Schran vastly undestated the worst case scenario

    Why couldn’t al Qaeda disguise themselves and Grandparents and the Grandchildren. Someone could attend and graduate from Rabbinical school or finagle a paycheck as a policeman.

    Remember Robert Hanson who disgused himself as a super patriot but was a Russian spy. There is no reason al Qaeda members couldn‘t avoid prayer or contact with other Muslims for 20 years in order to get there version of God’s kingdom upon the earth

    An al Qaeda asset is it’s image of being little David against gigantic Goliath, despite bin Laden 6’2″ and Bush a somewhat cowardly slightly stubby mental midget.

    If they can get an attack to big to worry about image, or to pretend to be Iranian agents instead of al Qaeda, this country might resemble a fireworks display.

    There are low tech ways of screwing up this country royally, but since al Qaeda might be listening none of us can mention them. After one meeting of an expert on phony terror threats, I whimpered to him privately on ways of screwing this country royally, in a low tech manner, and he said he heard it before, but I didn’t get to ask why he then claimed the terror threat was bogus.

    Crying wolf is helping the wolf turn this into a planet of hate including Central Africa and the Asian subcontinent.

    Why did terror bombs distract from Britain’s biggest peace demo, and Senator Frist unable to call for detention reform, became he was cut off by a news bulletin, during his grim Congressional report of the additional Abu Ghraib photos Congress privately viewed (that of Nick Berg being beheaded). And Moussaoui almost got himself sentenced to death so al Qaeda could re-post video of bin Laden bragging that the only for lead pilots knew of the target, the others only that they would “probably be going to heaven”.

    After bin Laden demanded that Iraqis not vote, antiwar organizing around the theme that the war in Iraq had nothing to due with fighting terror seemed to fizzle.

    We’re all in great danger, but the biggest danger is confusing subsidizing al Qaeda with opposing terror.


    Richard Kanegis, 215-563-2866 22s22ndStApt305PhilaPA19103.
    PS I love phone calls and letters but suspect we are going to be put in cyberprison where nothing selectively will work. Unless we are capable knowing each other’s address and calling up if the doorbell doesn’t selectively ring. Meanwhile our cable bills and email bill will be unpaid and electricity bills too, except in Philadelphia were people can line up in person with cash, and too many people claiming they paid and have an account would keep their electricity bills to stay being paid. If we don’t very shortly wake up, we might as well bow down to bin Laden because he will soon be proving that evil not goodness rules the universe. The dollar will collapse from bin Laden forcing Bush to spend like crazy, and a depression worst then the last where cockroaches and rats will become delicious morsels.

  2. Jellicoe

    What is receiving virtually no ink at all when the Iraq quagmire is publicly discussed, whether by the mainstream (compromised) media or politicians, is the option of (1) pulling our military and special ops assets out of the portions of the world that (gee, what a coincidence) just happen to have resources that we covet (particularly oil and gas) while, at the same time, (2) convincingly apologizing for our consistent post-WWII self-aggrandizing foreign policy and (3) offering our hand in genuine cooperation and assistance to the world instead of saber-rattling and the mailed fist. I.e., stop the bleeding in Iraq, etc AND defuse the ticking time bomb of rapidly swelling world revulsion over our self-satisfied bullying for economic gain. Would it hurt so much to publicly repudiate past criminal behavior and turn over a new leaf in our foreign policy, ala Germany, Japan and South Africa? Do we have to hold a gun to everyone’s heads in perpetuity in order to keep every last bit of our current horde of wealth and power? Should it really be our foreign policy — regardless of the motive — to explicitly and in deadly earnest threaten Iran, a country that has not attacked any other country in centuries and is incapable of doing so with any success (but, gee, what a coincidence, is sitting on a lot of OIL), with nuclear strikes even in urban areas? Until the press holds politicians’ feet to the fire of the real nature of our longstanding bi-partisan empirialism, we cannot hope to have them articulate or implement any policy that holds out the slightest hope of helping extracate ourselves from the incredible hole we have dug for ourselves and the rest of the world.

  3. Even Steven Monton

    The funny part was where you asked “what if the CNN anchor (Wolf Blitzer) had held his high ground?”

    Blitzer, and high ground go together like Charles Manson and sanity.