What a Moronic Presidential Press Conference!
It's clear Bush doesn't understand Iraq, or Lebanon, or Gaza, or …
By Fred Kaplan
Posted Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2006,
Among the many flabbergasting answers that President Bush gave at his
press conference on Monday
one—about Democrats who propose pulling out of Iraq—triggered the
steepest jaw drop: "I would never question the patriotism of somebody
who disagrees with me. This has nothing to do with patriotism. It has
everything to do with understanding the world in which we live."
George W. Bush criticizing someone for not understanding the world is
like … well, it's like George W. Bush criticizing someone for not
understanding the world. It's sui generis: No parallel quite captures
the absurdity so succinctly.
This, after all, is the president who invaded Iraq without the slightest
composition or of the volcanic tensions that toppling its dictator might
unleash. Complexity has no place in his schemes. Choices are never
cloudy. The world is divided into the forces of terror and the forces of
freedom: The one's defeat means the other's victory.
Defeating terror by promoting freedom—it's "the fundamental challenge of
the 21^st century," he has said several times, especially when it comes
to the Middle East. But here, from the transcript of the press
conference, is how he sees the region's recent events:
What's very interesting about the violence in Lebanon and the
violence in Iraq and the violence in Gaza is this: These are all
groups of terrorists who are trying to stop the advance of
What is he talking about? Hamas, which has been responsible for much
of the violence in Gaza, won the Palestinian territory's
parliamentary elections. Hezbollah, which started its recent war
with Israel, holds a substantial minority of seats in Lebanon's
parliament and would probably win many more seats if a new election
were held tomorrow. Many of the militants waging sectarian battle in
Iraq have representation in Baghdad's popularly elected parliament.
The key reality that Bush fails to grasp is that terrorism and
democracy are not opposites. They can, and sometimes do, coexist.
One is not a cure for the other.
Here, as a further example of this failing, is his summation of Iraq:
I hear a lot about "civil war"… [But] the Iraqis want a unified
country. … Twelve million Iraqis voted. … It's an indication
about the desire for people to live in a free society.
What he misses is that those 12 million Iraqis had sharply divided
views of what a free society meant. Shiites voted for a unified
country led by Shiites, Sunnis voted for a unified country led by
Sunnis, and Kurds voted for their own separate country. Almost
nobody voted for a free society in any Western sense of the term.
(The secular parties did very poorly.)
The total number of voters, in such a context, means nothing. Look
at American history. In the 1860 election, held right before our own
Civil War, 81.2 percent of eligible citizens voted—the
second-largest turnout ever
Another comment from the president: "It's in our interests that we
help reformers across the Middle East achieve their objectives." But
who are these reformers? What are their objectives? And how can we
most effectively help them?
This is where Bush's performance proved most discouraging. He said,
as he's said before, "Resentment and the lack of hope create the
breeding grounds for terrorists." This may or may not be true. (Many
terrorist /leaders/ are well-off, and, according to some studies
their resentment is often aimed at foreign occupiers.) In any case,
what is Bush doing to reduce their resentment?
He said he wants to help Lebanon's democratic government survive,
but what is he doing about that? Bush called the press conference to
announce a $230 million aid package. That's a step above the
pathetic $50 million that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had
offered the week before, but it's still way below the $1 billion or
more than Iran is shoveling to Hezbollah, which is using the money
to rebuild Lebanon's bombed-out neighborhoods—and to take credit for
As for Iraq, it's no news that Bush has no strategy. What did come
as news—and, really, a bit of a shocker—is that he doesn't seem to
know what "strategy" means.
Asked if it might be time for a new strategy in Iraq, given the
unceasing rise in casualties and chaos, Bush replied, "The strategy
is to help the Iraqi people achieve their objectives and dreams,
which is a democratic society. That's the strategy. … Either you
say, 'It's important we stay there and get it done,' or we leave.
We're not leaving, so long as I'm the president."
The reporter followed up, "Sir, that's not really the question. The
Bush interrupted, "Sounded like the question to me."
First, it's not clear that the Iraqi people want a "democratic
society" in the Western sense. Second, and more to the point,
"helping Iraqis achieve a democratic society" may be a /strategic
objective/, but it's not a /strategy/—any more than "ending poverty"
or "going to the moon" is a strategy.
Strategy involves /how/ to achieve one's objectives—or, as the great
British strategist B.H. Liddell Hart put it, "the art of
distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of
policy." These are the issues that Bush refuses to address
publicly—what means and resources are to be applied, in what way, at
what risk, and to what end, in pursuing his policy. Instead, he
reduces everything to two options: "Cut and run" or, "Stay the
course." It's as if there's nothing in between, no alternative way
of applying military means. Could it be that he doesn't grasp the
distinction between an "objective" and a "strategy," and so doesn't
see that there might /be/ alternatives? Might our situation be that
/Fred Kaplan writes the "War Stories" column for *Slate*. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com>./
Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id