So did anyone see this clash of the titans (originally broadcast on The O’Reilly Factor on September 21, then interrupted by breaking news and re-broadcast on September 22)? O’Reilly invited Donahue to talk about his support for Cindy Sheehan and his opposition to the war in Iraq.
I have my issues with Bill O’Reilly. But on this occasion, I think he wiped the floor with Donahue.
Take their discussion of Sheehan:
DONAHUE: And FOX is in the business of saying that this woman is somehow saying un-American things. Hyperbole.
O’REILLY: No, no, no, no.
DONAHUE: Listen to what she’s saying.
O’REILLY: Nobody said she said anything un-American. We say that her positions are radical. And they are radical.
DONAHUE: Let me tell you what’s radical. What’s radical is to send more Americans to die in this war, which is a monumental blunder…
O’REILLY: All right.
So Donahue completely evades the issue of what Cindy Sheehan actually stands for (and why it’s a seriously bad idea for the anti-war movement to make her its spokeswoman).
Then there’s this:
DONAHUE: You want to stay the course, don’t you? You don’t…
O’REILLY: Look, here’s what I want to do. I want to give the Iraqis a chance to train their army so they can defeat these people who are trying to turn it into a terrorist
O’REILLY: That’s what I want to do.
DONAHUE: Iraq was not a terrorist state.
O’REILLY: Oh, no.
DONAHUE: I hope I don’t patronize you for thinking that.
O’REILLY: He was a swell guy. He was…
DONAHUE: Saddam — Saddam was a bastard. But he was our bastard.
O’REILLY: He wasn’t anybody’s…
DONAHUE: Donald Rumsfeld shook his hand in the ’80s.
I have big issues with how the war in Iraq was sold to the public and how it was conducted, but I think O’Reilly is right: an immediate withdrawal from Iraq would virtually guarantee that it would turn into a murderous terrorist state, with terrible consequences both for Iraqis and for the rest of the world. Whether Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a terrorist state is not very relevant to this question (my own take on this: terrorist, yes; implicated in the September 11 attacks, almost certainly not). Whether Saddam was “our bastard” at one point is even more irrelevant (yes, we sided with Iraq in its war with Iran, but the United States’ role in arming Saddam in the 1970s and 1980s was negligible compared to Russia and France). Donahue is clearly evading the question.
Then, Donahue resorts to the Michael Moore-ish low blow of “you wouldn’t send your children to this war.” (Has anyone told Donahue, Moore, et al. that parents in America do not “send their children to war” — people enlist voluntarily?) O’Reilly, it turns out, has something to parry with: “My nephew just enlisted in the Army. You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” There follows some ridiculous macho bluster by O’Reilly (“Yes, and he’s a patriot, so don’t denigrate his service or I’ll boot you right off the set”), but on the basic point, O’Reilly’s got Donahue pretty good:
O’REILLY: Don’t tell me I wouldn’t send my kids.
DONAHUE: Loud doesn’t mean right.
O’REILLY: My nephew just enlisted. You don’t know what you’re talking about.
DONAHUE: All right. You — your nephew is not your kid. You are…
O’REILLY: He’s my blood.
So O’Reilly’s nephew his not his “kid.” (Why does anti-war rhetoric consistently infantilize our fighting men and women?) But the fact remains that O’Reilly has someone very closely related to him serving (or about to serve) in Iraq, and this particular rhetorical stunt won’t work.
In the end, O’Reilly hits the right note. He acknowledges that this was an “optional war” and possibly “a tactical error,” a war badly conducted to boot. But he also stresses that if we leave, we abandon Iraq to the terrorists. And in respose to this, Donahue has nothing to offer but his own brand of bluster and references to Halliburton stock.