Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Quick Thoughts On Bush Press Conference

I actually thought about calling this post "The Press Corps Grows A Pair". For a change, there were some tough questions floating around - Bush often looked uncomfortable and hestitant and one one occasion downright "petulant teen girl".

USAToday has some highlights and doubtless there will be transcripts in due course but here's what I have from some brief notes as I watched.

  • On Pace: Bush pushed the White House line as put out by Tony Snow yesterday that "we know that" the Quods force is instrumental in allegedly getting weaponry to Iraqi insurgents of some unclear kind. "Either they knew or they didn't know," that some Iranian weapons have ended up in Iraq, Bush said. "What's worse? That the government knew or that the government didn't know?" However, he stopped short of Sunday's briefing claims that Iranian leaders are clearly involved. Which means they are backing off on Pace's difference of opinion and trying to spin the whole matter.

    It also leaves open the question of double standards between Quods in Iraq and Pakistan's ISI in Afghanistan.

  • Otherwise, on Iran, Bush is denying that the administration is leading up for war and is instead saying the Iranian people should realize their leaders are doing them harm i.e. pushing internal regime change.

  • When asked whether the current crop of allegations against Iran were of the same poor quality as the intelligence against Iraq that lead to the invasion, Bush got flustered, repeated the Quods stuff and kept saying his strategy in Iraq was "comprehensive" as if that meant "competent". He told the press "The idea that we're somehow manufacturing the idea that the Iranians are providing (bombs) is preposterous." So yes, just like Iraq.

  • On Iran's nuclear program, he said that he refused to sit down without a verifiable suspension of Iran's nuclear program. Yet on the new North Korea deal - where the sit-down talks and offers came before any suspension of work - he blasted as "flat wrong" critics like John Bolton (who was his own nominee as UN ambassador).

    Later he said that bilateral talks with Iran just wouldn't work so he wouldn't try them. "If I thought we could achieve success I would sit down" with Iran, the president said. "But I don't think we could achieve success right now."

    (I've a cross-refence between this bit and his claim that Democrats are being unfair by criticizing his surge before it has been tried.)

    Double and even triple standards? You Betcha.

  • But he did manage to claim a "hard-nosed" diplomatic success for the UN resolution on Iran even though he and his administration at the time were gravely disappointed it became so watered down from what they had hoped for.

  • Petulant spoilt brat moment - Washington Post reporter Peter Baker tried several ways to get the president to comment on the Plamegate trial of Cheney aide Scooter Libby. Bush's face and gestures were angry as he absolutely refused to comment, and he seemed to realize he'd stepped over some line later when he tried to make a joke of how he had "deftly handled" Baker.

  • He had another dodgy moment when one reporter asked him to square the rhetoric that victory in Iraq is necessary for America's safety with his telling Maliki that the US commitment to Iraq is not open-ended. He simply can't. So he dodged the question completely.

  • He did a dodge on whether Iraq is currently in a state of civil war too.

  • Single impressive moment? An utter slap-down of Mike Harris from uber-right website Politico.com. First he asked if Harris would like to explain who he worked for. Then when Harris asked a leading question about whether Bush could work with Democrats, Bush gave a long and impressive list of areas where he thought he could. He forcefully made the point that Dems could disagree about Bush's strategy and tactics in Iraq but were still patriots.

    Cheney and Rove aren't going to be happy about that. But it left me wondering, honestly, whether without the influence of the neocon right and Fat Karl's machiavellianism Bush might have turned out to be a rather better president. Then again, without those he would never have gained the White House in the first place.

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