So on the way to a client yesterday, I’m listening to George Bush’s press conference, and, in my open-minded way, I’m ready to pounce on the journalists for asking timid questions and on Bush for insisting, as he so often does, that the sky is red when we can look right up and see the sky is blue.
To my surprise, I sat in the parking ramp downtown and found myself thinking — the reporters are asking pretty good questions, and the resident of the White House is doing a pretty good job answering. I’m not talking about whether I agree with Bush’s conclusion, but the way he addressed the issues and the questions.
The big deal of course was the National Intelligence Estimate that said, oops, we guess Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program four years ago. So what should the questions be? First out of the chute was, “Do you still think Iran is as dangerous as you thought before the latest NIE?” A good question, but it didn’t dig below the surface. But the next questions did — How could we get it so wrong, again? When did you know about the new information, before or after you said Iran could be the source of World War III if their weapons program isn’t stopped? How can the world trust us when we keep getting these things wrong? Are you angry about the intelligence reversal? As you escalated your rhetoric, invoking WWIII, didn’t someone in the intelligence community pull on your sleeve and say, uh, boss, you might want to tone down the sabre-rattling? And the first dozen questions were all on the same issue, so answers could be followed up.
Not asked was the question — How is it that your administration is so monstrously incompetent? (Condi Rice knew about the new estimate a couple of weeks ago — but don’t get me started on that empty pantsuit.) So the questions were still not quite rowdy enough, but they were better than the planted questions both Dems and Reps have been fielding lately.
Bush had a message — Iran is still dangerous. And he got it across over and over in the news conference. And he was convincing. Iran is still dangerous. Just not as dangerous as the zealots in the White House have been saying. Any religious zealot is dangerous, in Iran or on Pennsylvania Avenue. Bush said the knowledge gained from generating nuclear power for electricity “can be transferred to a weapons program if Iran so chooses.” Set aside why the word “so” is in there — George has the communications skills of a bottom-quadrant fifth grader — he’s right about Iran posing a danger.
And he came pretty close to admitting something was amiss among his gang. “Many in my adminstration were quite clear” in their words about Iran recently, he said (as if absent from his own speeches lately). “We’ve had a reassessment, and we wanted the American people to know.” That almost sounds straightforward.
And he wasn’t defensive. Asked why, when intelligence people told him two months ago that there was new information but it needed to be analyzed, he didn’t ask them what it was, he said intelligence needs to be analyzed to see if its disinformation. Pretty good answer. On the other hand, a curious and responsible and sentient president would have asked the intelligence people, “what is the new info, I’ll take it into consideration and wait for your final assessment.” But that’s not George.
Nice irony — Bush also said intelligence on Iran is hard to come by because Iran’s government isn’t very transparent. Uh, George? And yours?
I’m terrified that George Bush and his band of zealots (many of whom were part of inflating the dangers posed by the crumbling stumbling Soviet Union under Reagan and GHW Bush so they could pimp for more zillions for their friends in defense, according to Richard Rhodes’s new book, Arsenals of Folly) are in charge of our military and foreign policy. I’d be terrified if they were in charge of my 40th high school reunion. So Bush didn’t convince me at this news conference that he knows what he’s doing. But he did do a good job of making his point, and even of making me think beyond my cocky preconceptions. Not bad.
(BTW, many of us on this blog have been AWOL lately — thanks for hanging in, dear readers. My wife and I have added a wonderful teenager to our household in the past few weeks, and, what a surprise, it takes time to be part of a young person’s life.)