When I heard the news of Tim Russert’s death on Friday, I was strangely unsettled in a way I didn’t think I would be. I’ve watched him over the years and enjoyed many of his interviews, but found myself irritated by him at times when he interviewed guys on our side with lines of questioning that I found to be absurd.
But there were other times when he interviewed Bush people that caused me to cheer that someone was finally asking them some tough questions.
I had forgotten about this interview with Dick Cheney in 2003:
MR. RUSSERT: If your analysis is not correct, and we’re not treated as liberators, but as conquerors, and the Iraqis begin to resist, particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly, and bloody battle with significant American casualties?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I don’t think it’s likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators….
MR. RUSSERT: The army’s top general said that we would have to have several hundred thousand troops there for several years in order to maintain stability.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I disagree. We need, obviously, a large force and we’ve deployed a large force to prevail, from a military standpoint, to achieve our objectives, we will need a significant presence there until such time as we can turn things over to the Iraqis themselves. But to suggest that we need several hundred thousand troops there after military operations cease, after the conflict ends, I don’t think is accurate. I think that’s an overstatement.
MR. RUSSERT: We’ve had 50,000 troops in Kosovo for several years, a country of just five million people. This is a country of 23 million people. It will take a lot in order to secure it.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, but we’ve significantly drawn down our forces in Kosovo and in the Balkans…..
MR. RUSSERT: Every analysis said this war itself would cost about $80 billion, recovery of Baghdad, perhaps of Iraq, about $10 billion per year. We should expect as American citizens that this would cost at least $100 billion for a two-year involvement.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I can’t say that, Tim….
Remember, at the time, few in the media dared question the Bush administration on much of anything relating to the upcoming war. Iraq was going to be a war as easy as the invasion of Grenada. Democrats mostly supported the war, as they seemed to be political cowards. Kerry, Edwards, and Clinton all thought it was a good idea.
Those of us who asked questions about the wisdom of invading Iraq were ridiculed as crazy, Hussein-lovers, Bin Laden sympathizers, or worse.
If for no other reason, Russert deserves our respect for asking some questions that others in the media didn’t ask at the time. Things might have been different if they had.