The Airing of Grievances
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
I'd like to thank President Bush, whose performance tonight makes the job of critics such as myself, so much easier than it really needs to be. The next few days will likely be filled with analysis of his remarks and I can't imagine too many people thinking he did a good job, save a few key points. I have pages of notes, but it really came down to a few themes:
- Never admit you're wrong
- Never admit a mistake
- Stick to the talking points and use them even when they don't relate to the question asked
- When an uncomfortable question is asked, avoid it or talk around it until everyone is comatose and then excuse yourself for not answering the question
Bush's opening remarks were actually quite coherent and stressed the importance of staying the course and sticking to the June 30 deadline, two themes that he would reiterate again and again in questioning. He acknowledged that April had seen some "tough weeks" and that he will provide additional soldiers and resources if asked. Initiatives highlighted would be working towards elections for a national assembly by Jan 2005 and a permanent government by December 2005. Also, we'll be sending Richard Armitage to meet with Middle East leaders (Diplomacy!!! What a novel concept!!) to curry support. In short, Bush stated that our success was vital and that the "consequences of failure would be unthinkable". He's laid it all on the line now and can't back down on anything - whether that's a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen.
The Q&A was, quite obviously, a disaster for Bush. Of the 15 questions I counted, only a couple were actually answered directly and effectively. A perfect example of his evasive technique was the question on intelligence reform and what his thoughts were on that matter given the recent testimony before the 9/11 commission. His answer? He's open to suggestions. This was followed by a 5 minute soliliqy on the importance of free societies and how we can win the war on terror by creating a free society in Iraq. Not exactly deep thoughts on intelligence reform. Another came when Bush was asked how he could explain the prewar claims (being greeted as liberators, certainty of WMDs, etc.) that turned out to be patently false. His answer had virtually nothing in the way of an explanation, just more on how he perceived Iraq to be a threat after 9/11 and more blameing the UN for not acting sooner.
The main point that will be discussed is why Bush can not admit a mistake and why he does not take responsibility or feel culpability for decisions or inaction that may have turned out to be wrongheaded. 5 of the 15 questions had to do with mistakes made, personal failures, or the matter of responsibility. He avoided answering every single one. Bush was visibly shaken when asked what mistake was his biggest after 9/11. With the clicks of dozens of press cameras clearly audible, he stammered for several seconds, admitted that he wished he could have planned for the question, remained silent for an uncomfortable period of time, and then went on to defend his decisions to go into Afghanistan and Iraq. He even said we still might find WMDs. Bush then excused himself for not having a good answer and took another question as soon as he possibly could. This in response to a question about his biggest mistake post-9/11. Incredible.
Another topic that will be talked to death is his refusal to give a good answer when asked why he and Vice President Cheney will be appearing together before the 9/11 Commission. Bush stated that they were testifying because they were asked to and they looked forward to meeting with the Commission. When the exact same question was asked, stressing that the question was more why did they have to testify together, the answer was the same. As a dozen voices were raised in objection, he then made sure to quickly call on whoever had their hand raised, insisting that there were "must-calls" in the press that he had to get to.
There's more, but I think I made the points I wanted to make and I think President Bush did enough damage to himself tonight that I don't need to stay up any later writing about it.