No Wonder They Don’t Do These Very Often

So I watched President Bush’s press conference tonight. Heck, it’s the first time he’s had a prime-time press conference in 13 months, so I figured, what the hey.

Wow. I mean, wow. He was seriously, seriously bad. I mean, scary bad. He rambled, stumbled over his words, failed to answer questions, and dwelled forever on seemingly minor details. At one point he referred to the Caucasus as “the Caucus”. (Seriously, check the transcript.) It was a pretty cringe-worthy performance.

Here’s a good example of what I’m talking about — CNN’s John King asked Bush what he thought the worst mistake he’d made since taking office was:

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
In the last campaign, you were asked a question about the biggest mistake you’d made in your life, and you used to like to joke that it was trading Sammy Sosa.
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 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.
BUSH: 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.
Yes, Ann?

Yep. That’s his answer (in full, the whole rambling mess). With all that’s gone on since 9/11, when asked to cite one thing — one thing — he thinks he could have done better, he’s stumped!

Christ, I’ve gotten asked this question in every job interview I’ve ever had (“Tell us about something you feel you could have done better at your previous job”) and it’s not like it’s a hard question to answer. Everybody has something they think they could improve on — even people who haven’t riven an entire country down the middle. Hell, he could have fudged his way through it if he wanted to; just give some bullshit like “well, John, I think that my biggest mistake is loving America too much”. But he’s like a deer in the headlights. He apparently can’t think outside of his talking points (“Saddam Hussein was an evil man”, “50 tons of mustard gas on a Libyan turkey farm”).

He only gave one answer the entire night that was actually coherent, and unfortunately, it was pretty Goddamn frightening:

QUESTION: Looking forward about keeping United States safe, a group representing about several thousand FBI agents today wrote to your administration begging you not to split up the law enforcement and the counterterrorism …
BUSH: Yes.
QUESTION: … because they say it ties their hands, it gives them blinders, that they’re partners.
Yet you mentioned yesterday that you think perhaps the time has come for some real intelligence reforms. That can’t happen without real leadership from the White House.
Will you? And how will you?
BUSH: Well, you’re talking about one aspect of possible — I think you’re referring to what they call the MI5. And I heard a summary of that from Director Mueller, who feels strongly that we — and he’ll testify to that effect, I guess tomorrow. I shouldn’t be prejudging his testimony.
But my point was that I’m open for suggestions. I look forward to seeing what the 9-11 commission comes up with. I look forward to seeing what the Silberman-Robb commission comes up with. I’m confident Congress will have some suggestions.
What I’m saying is, let the discussions begin, and I won’t prejudge the conclusion. As the president, I will encourage and foster these kinds of discussions, because one of the jobs of the president is to leave behind a legacy that will enable other presidents to better deal with the threat that we face.
We are in a long war. The war on terror is not going to end immediately. This is a war against people who have no guilt in killing innocent people. That’s what they’re willing to do. They kill on a moment’s notice, because they’re trying to shake our will, they’re trying to create fear, they’re trying to affect people’s behaviors. And we’re simply not going to let them do that.
And my fear, of course, is that this will go on for a while, and therefore, it’s incumbent upon us to learn from lessons or mistakes, and leave behind a better foundation for presidents to deal with the threats we face. This is the war that other presidents will be facing as we head into the 21st century.
One of the interesting things people ask me, now that we’re asking questions, is, can you ever win the war on terror? Of course you can.
That’s why it’s important for us to spread freedom throughout the Middle East. Free societies are hopeful societies. A hopeful society is one more likely to be able to deal with the frustrations of those who are willing to commit suicide in order to represent a false ideology.
A free society is a society in which somebody is more likely to be able to make a living. A free society is a society in which someone is more likely to be able to raise their child in a comfortable environment and see to it that that child gets an education.
That’s why I’m pressing the Greater Middle East Reform Initiative to work to spread freedom, and we will continue on that. So long as I’m the president, I will press for freedom. I believe so strongly in the power of freedom.
You know why I do? Because I’ve seen freedom work right here in our own country. I also have this belief, strong belief, that freedom is not this country’s gift to the world. Freedom is the Almighty’s gift to every man and woman in this world.
And as the greatest power on the face of the earth, we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom.
We have an obligation to help feed the hungry. I think the American people find it interesting that we’re providing food for the North Korea [sic] people who starve.
We have an obligation to lead the fight on AIDS, on Africa. And we have an obligation to work toward a more free world. That’s our obligation. That is what we have been called to do, as far as I’m concerned.
And my job as the president is to lead this nation and to making the world a better place. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Weeks such as we’ve had in Iraq make some doubt whether or not we’re making progress. I understand that. It was a tough, tough period. But we are making progress.
And my message today to those in Iraq is, we’ll stay the course, we’ll complete the job.
My message to our troops is, we’ll stay the course and complete the job, and you’ll have what you need.
And my message to the loved ones who are worried about their sons, daughters, husbands, wives is, your loved one is performing a noble service for the cause of freedom and peace.

(Emphasis mine)

Again, long rambling answer. But let me pull out the money quote for you:

I also have this belief, strong belief, that freedom is not this country’s gift to the world. Freedom is the Almighty’s gift to every man and woman in this world.
And as the greatest power on the face of the earth, we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom.

Now, I can see where he’s coming from. He’s arguing that people are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, etc. Standard Enlightenment viewpoint.

My concerns are these:

  • It’s one thing to claim — as the Founders did — that people are born with natural rights, and the ability to act, if necessary, against their government to exercise them. It’s another thing entirely to claim — as Bush just did — that people are born with natural rights, and the United States has a mission to go into their countries and act on their behalf — whether they want us to or not. That makes us more than a country of free men and women, it makes us a crusading nation exporting revolution. That’s a lot closer to Napoleon’s France than it is to Washington’s America.
  • And on a purely tactical level — is it really wise to be claiming that we’re on a mission from (presumably the Christian) God when our enemy’s primary recruiting message is that the Crusaders are back?

It’ll be interesting to see if the coverage tomorrow tells you just how truly weird this performance was. It was like watching a man without a life preserver thrashing around in the middle of the ocean. If the story tomorrow is about his “resolve” I don’t want to hear any bitching about the “liberal media” ever again.