Bush's Latest Press Conference: "History has proven democracies don't war."
Last Tuesday Bush held a rare one-on-one press conference in a desperate attempt to boost sagging public support for the Iraq war. The press conference was particularly unusual for its candour- with the White House press corps actually doing its job and asking Shrubya some difficult questions. You can find the transcript and video of the press conference here on the White House website. I was somewhat surprised the Bushies actually put the transcript up in its entirety given the tough questions and Bush's lame performance. While they seemed to put up the whole transcript, not everything is on the level in the video. Having watched the original televised press conference, and the video on the government website, it's pretty obvious to me that the White House has sped up the video slightly in order to make Bush look more articulate then he actually is. I'm 95% certain of this. If someone can prove me wrong let me know. On TV he was talking quite a bit slower and fumbling for words, speeding up the video really helped smooth this out. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if they edited the transcript a bit too, but I haven't looked at it closely enough to tell.
Surprisingly, Helen Thomas, the 85 year old doyenne of the White House press corps was called upon for a question for the first time in 3 years. While a lot of the other reporters asked critical questions as well, this was the probably the harshest exchange of the whole press conference. Prior to this she had been locked out of questioning Bush, basically because she was too probing and critical- of course this is exactly what a good reporter should be doing. Here's the transcript from the Thomas/Bush exchange below:
THE PRESIDENT: Helen. After that brilliant performance at the Grid Iron, I am -- (laughter.)
Q You're going to be sorry. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, then, let me take it back. (Laughter.)
Q I'd like to ask you, Mr. President, your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is, why did you really want to go to war? From the moment you stepped into the White House, from your Cabinet -- your Cabinet officers, intelligence people, and so forth -- what was your real reason? You have said it wasn't oil -- quest for oil, it hasn't been Israel, or anything else. What was it?
THE PRESIDENT: I think your premise -- in all due respect to your question and to you as a lifelong journalist -- is that -- I didn't want war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect --
Q Everything --
THE PRESIDENT: Hold on for a second, please.
Q -- everything I've heard --
THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me, excuse me. No President wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it's just simply not true. My attitude about the defense of this country changed on September the 11th. We -- when we got attacked, I vowed then and there to use every asset at my disposal to protect the American people. Our foreign policy changed on that day, Helen. You know, we used to think we were secure because of oceans and previous diplomacy. But we realized on September the 11th, 2001, that killers could destroy innocent life. And I'm never going to forget it. And I'm never going to forget the vow I made to the American people that we will do everything in our power to protect our people.
Part of that meant to make sure that we didn't allow people to provide safe haven to an enemy. And that's why I went into Iraq -- hold on for a second --
Q They didn't do anything to you, or to our country.
THE PRESIDENT: Look -- excuse me for a second, please. Excuse me for a second. They did. The Taliban provided safe haven for al Qaeda. That's where al Qaeda trained --
Q I'm talking about Iraq --
THE PRESIDENT: Helen, excuse me. That's where -- Afghanistan provided safe haven for al Qaeda. That's where they trained. That's where they plotted. That's where they planned the attacks that killed thousands of innocent Americans.
I also saw a threat in Iraq. I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That's why I went to the Security Council; that's why it was important to pass 1441, which was unanimously passed. And the world said, disarm, disclose, or face serious consequences --
Q -- go to war --
THE PRESIDENT: -- and therefore, we worked with the world, we worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did, and the world is safer for it.
Q Thank you, sir. Secretary Rumsfeld -- (laughter.)
Q Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: You're welcome. (Laughter.) I didn't really regret it. I kind of semi-regretted it. (Laughter.)
Q -- have a debate.
THE PRESIDENT: That's right. Anyway, your performance at the Grid Iron was just brilliant -- unlike Holland's, was a little weak, but -- (laughter.)
My googling revealed that this ballsy old bird actually has her own podcast where she regular rips Shrubya a new one. Make no mistake Helen is an outspoken critic of the Bush administration. Here's another a link to a recent interview where she's being harassed by a right-wing radio host, Hugh Hewitt, for not liking Bush. Helen holds her own pretty well considering Hewitt has obviously ambushed her with the irrelevant line of questioning.
Clearly, the Bush administration, notorious for shielding Bush from any overly critical questions, recognizes that even they have to answer some of their critics given the increasing weariness over the Iraq debacle. The press conference was their attempt to provide a rebuttal to the growing dissent over their disintegrating foreign policy. I wasn't impressed. Just more of the same empty bluster...but this time with a lot less confidence.
My favorite 'Bushisms' from the press conference:
History has proven democracies don't war.
But I see progress. I've heard people say, oh, he's just kind of optimistic for the sake of optimism. Well, look, I believe we're going to succeed. And I understand how tough it is -- don't get me wrong -- I mean, you make it abundantly clear how tough it is. I hear it from our troops; I read the reports every night. But I believe -- I believe the Iraqis -- this is a moment where the Iraqis had a chance to fall apart, and they didn't. And that's a positive development.
I believe that my job is to go out and explain to people what's on my mind. That's why I'm having this press conference, see. I'm telling you what's on my mind. And what's on my mind is winning the war on terror. And I understand war creates concerns, Jim. Nobody likes war. It creates a sense of -- of uncertainty in the country.