Some press conference, wasn’t it? We all got to watch the most powerful man in the world demonstrate that he was unable to answer a straight question with a straight answer. On most questions, he stuttered, talked all around it, and then returned to his original talking points, even when they had precious little to do with the actual question. He did have a couple of good moments, when he managed to latch onto a point he felt comfortable with (e.g., I liked him saying that freedom wasn't a gift from us to the Iraqis, but a gift from the Almighty to humanity. I just wish he behaved as though he believed that.), but unfortunately for him (and the United States), his good moments were broken up by several consecutive minutes of amateurishness and confusion.
But what struck me - more than the obfuscation, the sidestepping and the shenanigans – was that George W. Bush stood there revealed as a man incapable of admitting that he makes mistakes, like the Sean Penn character in Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown. A sad, broken personality who has a desperate need to appear perfect, when, in reality, he doesn’t even appear impressive.
He was asked three times to admit to error, and all three times, he avoided answering, and looked completely confused and foolish on the second one.
Here are the exchanges:
Q. One the biggest criticisms of you is that whether it's WMD in Iraq, postwar planning in Iraq, or even the question of whether this administration did enough to ward off 9-11, you never admit a mistake. Is that a fair criticism, and do you believe that there were any errors in judgment that you made related to any of those topics I brought up?
BUSH: Well, I think, as I mentioned, you know, the country wasn't on war footing, and yet we're at war.
And that's just a reality, Dave. I mean, that was the situation that existed prior to 9-11, because the truth of the matter is most in the country never felt that we'd be vulnerable to an attack such as the one that Osama bin Laden unleashed on us.
We knew he had designs on us. We knew he hated us. But there was nobody in our government, at least, and I don't think the prior government that could envision flying airplanes into buildings on such a massive scale.
The people know where I stand, I mean, in terms of Iraq. I was very clear about what I believed. And, of course, I want to know why we haven't found a weapon yet. But I still know Saddam Hussein was a threat. And the world is better off without Saddam Hussein.
George? The man asked you if you ever admit a mistake. What question were you answering? Or was the "no" implied? He didn’t ask you if Osama Bin Laden hated us, or if the world is better off with Saddam Hussein. And your statement that no one could “envision flying airplanes into building on such a massive scale” is just false. Let's try it again:
Q.You've looked back before 9-11 for what mistakes might have been made. After 9-11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it?
BUSH: I wish you'd have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it.
John, I'm sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could've done it better this way or that way. You know, I just -- I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with answer, but it hadn't yet.
I would've gone into Afghanistan the way we went into Afghanistan. Even knowing what I know today about the stockpiles of weapons, I still would've called upon the world to deal with Saddam Hussein.
See, I'm of the belief that we'll find out the truth on the weapons. That's why we sent up the independent commission. I look forward to hearing the truth as to exactly where they are. They could still be there. They could be hidden, like the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm.
One of the things that Charlie Duelfer talked about was that he was surprised of the level of intimidation he found amongst people who should know about weapons and their fear of talking about them because they don't want to be killed.
You know, there's this kind of -- there's a terror still in the soul of some of the people in Iraq. They're worried about getting killed, and therefore they're not going to talk. But it'll all settle out, John. We'll find out the truth about the weapons at some point in time.
However, the fact that he had the capacity to make them bothers me today just like it would have bothered me then. He's a dangerous man. He's a man who actually not only had weapons of mass destruction -- the reason I can say that with certainty is because he used them.
And I have no doubt in my mind that he would like to have inflicted harm, or paid people to inflict harm, or trained people to inflict harm, on America, because he hated us.
I hope -- I don't want to sound like I have made no mistakes. I'm confident I have. I just haven't -- you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.
“I hope -- I don't want to sound like I have made no mistakes. I'm confident I have. I just haven't”
George? Are you serious? You were actually thrown by this question? Somebody asked you if you could think of any mistakes you’ve made in the last TWO AND A HALF YEARS – and you’ve never thought of asking YOURSELF that?
I don’t want to get personal George, but you claim to be a Christian. You haven’t done any self-examination in two-and-a-half years?
And - again - nobody asked you if Saddam Hussein was dangerous man. We asked you if you’d made any mistakes.
So let's try it again:
QUESTION: Following on both Judy and John's questions, and it comes out of what you just said in some ways, with public support for your policies in Iraq falling off the way they have, quite significantly over the past couple of months, I guess I'd like to know if you feel, in any way, that you have failed as a communicator on this topic.
BUSH: Gosh, I don't know. I mean ...
QUESTION: Well, you deliver a lot of speeches, and a lot of them contain similar phrases and may vary very little from one to the next. And they often include a pretty upbeat assessment of how things are going, with the exception of tonight. It's pretty somber.
BUSH: A pretty somber assessment today, Don, yes.
QUESTION: But I guess I just wonder if you feel that you have failed in any way. You don't have many of these press conferences where you engage in this kind of exchange. Have you failed in any way to really make the case to the American public?
BUSH: You know, that's, I guess, if you put it into a political context, that's the kind of thing the voters will decide next November. That's what elections are about. They'll take a look at me and my opponent and say, let's see, which one of them can better win the war on terror? Who best can see to it that Iraq emerges a free society?
And, Don, you know, if I tried to fine-tune my messages based upon polls, I think I'd be pretty ineffective. I know I would be disappointed in myself.
I’ll give you credit this time, George: at least you didn’t tell us again what a bad man Saddam Hussein is. But you still didn’t answer the question. What is it about admitting mistakes and self-criticism that totally frightens you, George? Why do you psychologically avoid doing that, at all costs?
The man asked you if you thought you had failed to properly communicate your message.
Considering the communication skills displayed in this press conference, it’s amazing that anybody even bothers to ask anymore.