Think golf. Josh Marshall at Talking Point Memo tees up the ball...
Three quotes from President Bush -
From a White Press conference 13 April 2004, this -
"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."
From 28 August 2004 this -
"I don't think you can win it (i.e., the war on terror). But I think you can create conditions so that the -- those who use terror as a tool are -- less acceptable in parts of the world."
From 31 August 2004 this -
"We meet today in a time of war for our country, a war (i.e., the war on terror) we did not start yet one that we will win."
Which is it? Fooled ya, suckers! You don't know, do you?
Marshall comments -
Come to think of it, this may be an ingenious way to pump up viewership for the president's speech on Thursday night. Tune in to find out his final answer: can we win or can't we? We'll be on the edge of our seats.
We're told that later today the president will be commenting on whether the war between Oceania and East Asia is winnable.
Not important. As Elizabeth Bumiller points out in the New York Times -
Oh geez! Bush is getting all French on us now?
President Bush, in an interview broadcast on Monday, said he did not think America could win the war on terror but that it could make terrorism less acceptable around the world, a departure from his previous optimistic statements that the United States would eventually prevail.
In the interview with Matt Lauer of the NBC News program "Today," conducted on Saturday but shown on the opening day of the Republican National Convention, Mr. Bush was asked if the United States could win the war against terrorism, which he has made the focus of his administration and the central thrust of his re-election campaign.
"I don't think you can win it," Mr. Bush replied. "But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world."
As recently as July 14, Mr. Bush had drawn a far sunnier picture. "I have a clear vision and a strategy to win the war on terror," he said.
At a prime-time news conference in the East Room of the White House on April 13, Mr. Bush said: "One of the interesting things people ask me, now that we are asking questions, is, 'Can you ever win the war on terror?' Of course you can."
It was unclear if Mr. Bush had meant to make the remark to Mr. Lauer, or if he misspoke. But White House officials said the president was not signaling a change in policy, and they sought to explain his statement by saying he was emphasizing the long-term nature of the struggle.
Taken at face value, however, Mr. Bush's words would put him closer to the positions of the United States' European allies, who have considered Mr. Bush's talk of victory simplistic and unhelpful. ...
Ah, he must have misspoken. No change. Not really.
He takes it back, or, well, adds nuance. Or what passes for nuance these days when you speak to a convention of the American Legion.
Bush: 'We Will Win' the War on Terror
President Reverses Statements Made in 'Today' Show Interview
Mike Allen, The Washington Post, Tuesday, August 31, 2004; 4:48 PM
Ah, you see when you talk about a table it becomes more clear. We will win, but we won't be sitting down at any tables, so it might not look like we won.
NASHVILLE, Aug. 31 -- President Bush rushed Tuesday morning to reverse his assertion that the war on terror cannot be won, trying to deflect a planned barrage of Democratic attacks by telling the nation's largest veterans group that "we are winning, and we will win."
Bush, asked about "this war on terror" in an interview aired Monday on NBC's "Today" show, had said: "I don't think you can win it." But with Democrats castigating him as a defeatist, he told the annual convention of the American Legion that "in this different kind of way, we may never sit down at a peace table."
Well, to clarify any problem you have with the subtlety of that idea, President Bush decided that he had better explain this all in more detail and nuance to the largest political audience available at any one time in North America - the listeners to the Rush Limbaugh radio show.
So he dropped by the Limbaugh show as a special guest and said this -
They lurk, you see. And that makes things complicated. And Pakistan is an ally. Case closed.
I should have made my point more clear about what I meant. What I meant was that this is not a conventional war. It is a different kind of war. We're fighting people who have got a dark ideology who use terrorists, terrorism, as a tool. They're trying to shake our conscience. They're trying to shake our will, and so in the short run the strategy has got to be to find them where they lurk. I tell people all the time, "We will find them on the offense. We will bring them to justice on foreign lands so we don't have to face them here at home," and that's because you cannot negotiate with these people. And in a conventional war there would be a peace treaty or there would be a moment where somebody would sit on the side and say we quit. That's not the kind of war we're in, and that's what I was saying. The kind of war we're in requires, you know, steadfast resolve, and I will continue to be resolved to bring them to justice, but as well as to spread liberty ... There's no doubt in my mind, so long as this country stays resolved and strong and determined, and by winning, I just would remind your listeners that Pakistan is now an ally in the war on terror.
Marshall adds this -
Yeah, well, he tried.
The president deserves every whack he gets for changing his position twice in three days on the issue he has made the centerpiece of his campaign. But folks should also start using his bobbling to make the point that the issue is less whether the president thinks the 'terror war' is winnable than the fact that he doesn't even have any clear idea of how to fight it
(A reader makes a good point: Reading the above, you can see why President Bush doesn't 'do nuance.' It ain't his strong suit.)
The actual conversation that started all this? From the Matt Lauer interview on "The Today Show" note this -
Okay, he's just a little vague here, but hoping we get the general idea. Or he's trying to show us he's a deeper thinker than we imagined, as he can be are nuanced as that Kerry guy.
LAUER: You said to me a second ago, one of the things you'll lay out in your vision for the next four years is how to go about winning the war on terror. That phrase strikes me a little bit. Do you really think we can win this war of ter--on terror? For example, in the next four years?
Pres. BUSH: I have never said we can win it in four years?
LAUER: No, I'm just saying, can we win it? Do you say that?
Pres. BUSH: I don't--I don't think we can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the--those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in part of the world, let's put it that way. I have a two-pronged strategy. On the one hand is to find them before they hurt us. And that's necessary. I'm telling you it's necessary.
Many, many commentators have pointed out that had Kerry said such a thing - that we cannot win this war on terror by the usual definitions of winning - the Republicans would have tarred and feathered him and run him out of town on a rail. Kerry would be pilloried as weak on terror and a traitor and a defeatist and so on and so forth - as cowardly and timid as, say, Max Cleland. Max Cleland and John Kerry don't like facing the enemy. Did either of them join the Texas Air National Guard and fly missions to protect Houston from the deadly, daily attacks of the Viet Cong air force? I think not! Cowards!
The conservative but gay, American but once British writer Andrew Sullivan says the obvious -
Yeah, but folks don't care. Read the poll numbers.
The odd thing is that this really does sound like a parody of Kerry. And if Kerry had indeed said that, we would be hearing nothing else for weeks. And indeed, every time I hear the president talk extemporaneously about the war - his interview with Tim Russert last February was a classic - he does seem to have almost no conceptual grasp of what he's talking about. Back then, he seemed flummoxed by the very concept of a distinction between a war of choice and a war of necessity. Now he seems to be parroting a Council on Foreign Relations confab on the permanence of terrorism.
We're all told that the president knows what he believes about this war and today he corrected himself. But the issues here - how to fight Islamist terror, what constitutes success, the necessary blend of military action, diplomacy, police work, etc. - are not minor.
You have to be impressed by this president's resilience in the war and his aggression. He also deserves enormous credit for shifting U.S. policy toward democratization in that part of the world. But there are times when you have to wonder whether he really understands this issue as deeply as he needs to; and whether that limited grasp has led to some of the calamitous "miscalculations" that even he has now acknowledged.
Items like Fitness for Command (August 22, 2004 - No one wants to mention the elephant in the room, but things change...) - and the August 29 follow-up here - just reinforce the idea the pointy-headed intellectuals have it in for a guy who is just trying to do the right thing. He may be weak on the concepts, but he relishes killing the bad guys real dead. Why would you want more?
Punishment and revenge matter to people.
Even if we kill the wrong folks - yeah, no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and no ties to al-Qaeda or Osama and no real threat - and even if we mess up a bit (as it is still a but dicey on the streets there now) - at least we're doing something. Maybe the wrong thing, but something, unlike those who want us to be so thoughtful and prissy and follow the rules. Even if we lock up people for years with no charges and keep in from communicating with anyone at all - and maybe we got the wrong folks - at least we're doing something.
Remember the words of Marge Simpson - "We can stand here like the French, or we can do something about it." Doing something now is better than thinking things through and doing something clever after you figure out what might happen when you do it? Maybe.
Action trumps thoughtfulness. This is America.
Apropos of that, this Associated Press item caught my attention -
U.S. May Shift Billions for Iraq Security
Monday Aug 30, 5:38 PM ET
Yep, making it up as we go along.
The State Department is considering whether $3.34 billion intended for public works projects in Iraq should be thrown at security, a State Department official said Monday.
The money would be part of $18.4 billion Congress approved last year for rebuilding Iraq.
Though Bush said this money was needed "urgently," little has been spent because of bureaucratic delays and security problems.
The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, has recommended that the $3.34 billion be reallocated from water, sewage and electricity projects. If security is improved, oil production could be increased, eventually making more money available for reconstruction, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. ...
We don't do ready, aim, FIRE!
Not our style.
We do ready, fire, AIM!
Does it matter? You make adjustments.
We will soon reach the inevitable milestone in the war - one thousand dead American soldiers. Our scoffing at planning? Our quick but wrong-headed assessment of what the situation was and what it was likely to be if we acted this way or that - where we were not supposed to ask questions but just trust the guys in charge? Does it matter? It might matter to these one thousand soldiers, but they're dead.