03/19/03 - Posted 12:19:32 AM from the Daily Record newsroom
Former CBS anchor Cronkite voices disappointment in move to war
Retired journalist addresses Drew about future of U.S.
By Rob Jennings, Daily Record
MADISON - The "most trusted man in America," retired CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite, put aside his journalistic impartiality Tuesday night and issued a blistering dissent to President Bush's decision to wage war with Iraq.
At a Drew University forum, Cronkite said he feared the war would not go smoothly, ripped the "arrogance" of Bush and his administration and wondered whether the new U.S. doctrine of "pre-emptive war" might lead to unintended, dire consequences.
"Every little country in the world that has a border conflict with another little country … they now have a great example from the United States," Cronkite, 86, said in response to a question from Drew's president, former Gov. Thomas Kean.
More than 2,000 people attended the 8 p.m. forum, including college students such as Jennifer Gross, 19, of Sparta, who wasn't yet born when Cronkite surrendered his groundbreaking anchor post in 1981.
Also attending was 83-year-old Debbie Langehammer of Morristown, who recalled Cronkite's most famous broadcasting moment - the tragic afternoon when he blinked back tears while announcing the death of President Kennedy in 1963.
Hobbled by a torn Achilles tendon, Cronkite began by discussing one of his journalistic high points, reviewing the D-Day invasion with President Eisenhower in Normandy. He then addressed the looming war with Iraq.
"I'm very disappointed that we've come to this point," Cronkite said.
While many are confident the United States would easily oust Saddam Hussein, Cronkite said he isn't so sure. "The military is always more confident than circumstances show they should be," he said.
Cronkite speculated that the refusal of many traditional allies, such as France, to join the war effort signaled something deeper, and more ominous, than a mere foreign policy disagreement.
"The arrogance of our spokespeople, even the president himself, has been exceptional, and it seems to me they have taken great umbrage at that," Cronkite said. "We have told them what they must do. It is a pretty dark doctrine."
Cronkite chided Congress for not looking closely enough at the war and attempting to ascertain a viable estimate of its eventual cost, particularly in light of Bush's commitment to tax cuts.
"We are going to be in such a fix when this war is over, or before this war is over … our grandchildren's grandchildren are going to be paying for this war," Cronkite said.
"I look at our future as, I'm sorry, being very, very dark. Let's see our cards as we rise to meet the difficulties that lie ahead," he added, in a play on Bush's dismissive remarks about France.
But Cronkite, who spent many days and nights on battlefields and in campgrounds with U.S. forces, also spoke of supporting the troops.
"The time has come to put all of our, perhaps distaste, aside, and give our full support to the troops involved. That is the duty we owe our soldiers who had no role in deciding this course of action," Cronkite said.
In response to a question about media bias, Cronkite said the press is not politically partisan but does tilt toward liberalism. He said that the smartest president he ever met was Jimmy Carter.
"Most news people start their early years as cub reporters, covering the seamy side of life. They see the poverty. They see the want" - and as a result, Cronkite said, tend to favor the underprivileged.