Monday, August 21, 2006

Today's shootout at Credibility Gap

President Bush held a press conference this morning, and more verbal adventures ensued. The spirits of Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland) and Joseph Heller (Catch-22) are alive and well.

While seeking to promote his "freedom agenda" for Iraq and the Middle East, he again repeated his favorite talking point (also heard in 2003, 2004, 2005, and at other times in 2006) about how he was inspired to invade Iraq because of what happened in America on Sept. 11, 2001. As he put it this morning, "The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East."

Suddenly, a journalist from the reality-based community asked a question. Here's the exchange:

Q: "What did Iraq have to do with it?"
BUSH: "What did Iraq have to do with what?"
Q: "The attack on the World Trade Center."
BUSH: "Nothing..."

Well, that's very interesting...given the fact that Dick Cheney and other Bush war planners repeatedly and publicly sought to convince Americans that Iraq was very much involved. Cheney went on Sunday morning TV with his claim (long since disproved by intelligence officials) that one of the terrorists who crashed into the World Trade Center was seen meeting in Prague with a Saddam Hussein agent. Cheney and company were so successful with their rhetorical linkage that, according to the polls, more than 40 percent of the public wound up thinking that Hussein had helped plan the attacks.

But let's return to what Bush said today. Here's his entire answer:

"Nothing. Except it’s part of -- and nobody has suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- Iraq -- the lesson of September 11th is take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody’s ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq."

Nobody's ever "suggested" it? Another stunner. Bush himself has "suggested" it on many occasions. For instance, during a press conference on the eve of the war, while talking about Saddam, he reportedly invoked Sept. 11 eight times.

The conclusion is inescapable: By accident or design, Bush is now issuing factually-challenged denials about his previous factually-challenged assertions. His credibility woes, as consistently measured by the polls over the past year, aren't likely to improve in the wake of such behavior.

Meanwhile, one noteworthy sidebar on the press conference: At another point, while discussing Iraq, Bush said, "Sometimes I'm frustrated...War is not a joy."

Oh, so now he is frustrated?

Poor Tony Snow. Last week, after press reports circulated that the president had conveyed frustration about Iraq in a private meeting with foreign policy experts, press secretary Snow rushed into the breach to insist that the president was not frustrated at all (a word that might convey a sense of doubt, even weakness); rather, he said the president was determined (stronger word, more resolute).

Well, so much for last week's flackery. It can't be fun to have the boss hang you out to dry.