The Self Made Pundit
Thursday, July 31, 2003
SEARCHING THE RUINS OF A BUSH PRESS CONFERENCE: Reading transcripts of statements by Bush can be a fascinating experience in the same way that staring at a highway accident can be morbidly fascinating.
You drive by slowly, staring at the ugly verbal wreckage littering the road. Amidst the tangled debris of memorized buzzwords, you see burning and twisted metaphors and aphorisms. Occasionally, you are lucky, and just beyond the remains of evasions and euphemisms you discern barely surviving information.
It’s a bloody and ghastly mess, but somebody has to go through it.
Which brings us to Bush’s press conference yesterday.
When Bush is under pressure, as he was at the press conference, he gets defensive and frequently says whatever is necessary (regardless of its relation to reality) to elicit a desired emotional response from the listener. Since Bush in such situations does not actually use language to communicate thoughts and ideas, attempts to discern meaning from Bush statements is akin to deciphering pronouncements from the Kremlin in the days of the late Soviet Union.
Using the techniques of the old Kremlinologists (who often found what was not said to be most revealing) we can glean some information from yesterday’s press conference.
It obvious that despite all the blather written by lazy journalists in the past two years about how Bush has grown in the job since 9/11 into a more self-assured president, he still doesn’t have a clue. When asked questions that refer to any weaknesses in his policies, Bush shies away from any substantive discussion and invariably resorts to memorized buzzwords, contentless phrases or meandering evasions. When he is feeling expansive, he resorts to all three.
In response to questions about the search for Saddam Hussein and the continuing threat from Al Qaeda, Bush used these techniques as he tried to sound in command of the issues:
I don't know how close we are to getting Saddam Hussein. You know -- it's closer than we were yesterday, I guess. All I know is we're on the hunt. It's like if you had asked me right before we got his sons how close we were to get his sons, I'd say, I don't know, but we're on the hunt.
And the threat is a real threat. It's a threat that where -- we obviously don't have specific data, we don't know when, where, what. But we do know a couple of things. We do know that al Qaeda tends to use the methodologies that worked in the past.
We've got more to do. And the American people need to know, we're not stopping. We've got better intelligence-gathering, better intelligence-sharing, and we're on the hunt. And we will stay on the hunt. The threat that you asked about, Steve, reminds us that we need to be on the hunt, because the war on terror goes on.
I get it, Mr. President. We’re on the hunt.
Bush’s “guess” that we’re “closer [to getting] Hussein than we were yesterday” is is the kind of unsupported speculation that you would expect to find in a weblog or a State of the Union address. Since the reports a few days ago were that American troops had missed Hussein by 24 hours, does this mean that we are now missing Hussein by only 12 hours?
Bush’s statement that “al Qaeda tends to use the methodologies that worked in the past” achieves the distinction of being both blindingly obvious and clueless. It does not take any intelligence to conclude that any person or organization “tends to use the methodologies that worked in the past.” The same could be said for any higher primate. Yet one of the main risks we face in confronting Al Qaeda is that they will devise new tactics that we are not expecting. In fact, one the Bush administration’s main defenses for failing to prevent 9/11 was that flying jets into buildings was an unexpected terrorist tactic.
In both his Hussein and Al Qaeda answers, Bush responded with empty phrases rather than attempting to engage in any substantive discussion.
Bush may have inadvertently revealed some information about the supposed ties between Hussein and Al Qaeda in responding to a question on whether there is any evidence of such ties. For rather than citing to any such evidence, Bush tried a filibuster:
Q: Saddam Hussein's alleged ties to al Qaeda were a key part of your justification for war. Yet, your own intelligence report, the NIE, defined it as -- quote -- “low confidence that Saddam would give weapons to al Qaeda.” Were those links exaggerated to justify war? Or can you finally offer us some definitive evidence that Saddam was working with al Qaeda terrorists?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. I think, first of all, remember I just said we've been there for 90 days since the cessation of major military operations. Now, I know in our world where news comes and goes and there's this kind of instant -- instant news and you must have done this, you must do this yesterday, that there's a level of frustration by some in the media. I'm not suggesting you're frustrated. You don't look frustrated to me at all. But it's going to take time for us to gather the evidence and analyze the mounds of evidence, literally, the miles of documents that we have uncovered.
David Kaye came to see me yesterday. He's going to testify in closed hearing tomorrow -- which in Washington may not be so closed, as you know. And he was telling me the process that they were going through to analyze all the documentation. And that's not only to analyze the documentation on the weapons programs that Saddam Hussein had, but also the documentation as to terrorist links.
And it's just going to take awhile, and I'm confident the truth will come out. And there is no doubt in my mind, Campbell, that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States security, and a threat to peace in the region. And there's no doubt in my mind that a free Iraq is important. It's got strategic consequences for not only achieving peace in the Middle East, but a free Iraq will help change the habits of other nations in the region who will make it -- which will make America much more secure.
In other words, Bush is totally incapable of pointing to any “definitive evidence that Saddam was working with al Qaeda terrorists.”
As the questioner noted, Hussein’s alleged ties to Al Qaeda was one of Bush’s main justifications for leading America into war. As Bush’s empty answer reveals, this justification does not appear to have been any more substantial than Bush’s exaggerations about the supposedly imminent threat of a nuclear Iraq.
Ironically, Bush may have been at his most informative yesterday when he was being his most evasive.