This morning I was drowsily watching President Bush and Prime Minister Blair answer softball questions lobbed at them by a passive press corps when NBC’s David Gregory woke me up with a fast ball pitched right over the plate.
“Mr. President, three years ago you argued that an invasion of Iraq would create a new stage of Arab-Israeli peace. Yet today there is an Iraqi prime minister who’s been sharply critical of Israel. Arab governments, despite your arguments for criticizing Hezbollah, have now changed their tune. Now they’re sharply critical of Israel.
And despite, from both of you, warnings to Syria and Iran to back off support of Hezbollah, effectively, Mr. President, your warnings are being ignored. So what has happened to America’s clout in this region that you committed yourself to transform?”
I give credit to Bush for calling on Gregory, whose gutsy questions at White House press conferences have led disgruntled neocons to put up a “fire David Gregory” web site. But he whiffed badly on the pitch Gregory threw him, a typically poor performance for the non-answerer-in-Chief.
Bush is good at taking practice answer swings. His set speeches often contain well-crafted rhetoric, sometimes even delivered well. However, he doesn’t know how to connect with a real live skeptical questioner standing right in front of him.
Whereas Blair is used to the give and take of those Parliament free-for-alls that I see on C-SPAN now and then, Bush almost always is kept in a cone of kiss-ass deference. Except for those rare occasions when a gutsy citizen or journalist speaks his or her mind. Like today.
It was interesting to watch the mental cogs churn as Bush stumbled his way through the non-answer he gave Gregory. Even though our President supposedly has great “people skills,” they’re not much in evidence when he responds to a independent-minded questioner.
Bush doesn’t seem to think about what he’s been asked and try to frame a response that will satisfy the other person. By contrast, you can see the wheels turning in Blair’s mind before he gives an answer. He knows that he’s been thrown a challenge and he wants to bat it back skillfully.
About all I heard from Bush were canned phrases that he pulled out of his platitude bin. He did start off by making a little bit of sense. A lot of sense if you’re a believer in the Apocalypse or Armageddon. Rather than seeking stability, now the U.S. aims to shake things up so that things will be calm. Except as Gregory pointed out, the Middle East is even shakier after five years of the Bush presidency.
Uh, David, it’s an interesting period. Um, because, um, instead of having foreign policies based on trying to create a sense of stability, we have a foreign policy that addresses the root causes of violence and instability. Um, for a while American foreign policy was just this hope that everything was calm. Kind of manage calm. But beneath the surface was a lot of resentment and anger.
Sort of coherent. But then Bush meandered off down Platitude Lane. I couldn’t bring myself to transcribe the whole chain of gibberish. Here are bits and pieces of what he said:
…chasing down the killers and bringing them to justice…and make no mistake they’re still out there…and look, I fully understand some people don’t believe it’s possible for freedom and democracy to overcome this ideology of hatred…the notion of democracy beginning to emerge scares the ideologues…one of the challenges is to convince people that Muslims would like to be free…[some say] maybe it’s best to let them sit in these tyrannical societies…our foreign policy rejects that concept…I mean, there’s an unprovoked attack on a democracy…Why? I happen to believe because progress is being made toward democracies…I’m as determined as ever to continue fostering a foreign policy based on liberty, and I think it’s going to work…Unless we lose our nerve and quit.
Bush finally ran out of nonsense. He turned to Blair. However, Gregory refused to let his question go unanswered. Gregory blurted out something else (mostly inaudible). Bush looked even more irked than he was before. His blathering reached new heights of incomprehensibility. Some excerpts:
…but the reason why you asked the question is that terrorists are trying to stop that progress…they’ve just got a different tool to use than we do…they kill innocent lives to achieve objectives…and they’re good…they get on television screens and they get people to ask questions about, well, you know, this that or the other…they’re able to say to people, “don’t come and bother us because we’ll kill you,” and my attitude is, now is the time to be firm.
Amazing. Bush implies that David Gregory, along with anyone else who questions U.S. foreign policy, is a tool of the terrorists. Typical Bush administration strategy: when your message is being rejected by both the American public and the world at large, try to silence those who are pointing out this fact.
Lastly, I wonder if Bush listens to himself when he speaks. He said that terrorists "kill innocent lives to achieve objectives.” That sounds just like U.S. policy in Iraq.