Sunday, March 30, 2003

Today’s NYT’ s offers up some much needed humor. On the front page, they offer a tantalizing blurb for a feature article found in their special, “Nation At War” section. It reads, “Friends and aids say the president has emerged as a engrossed leader of the war, absorbed by daily battlefield developments.”

I especially like that Dubya has “emerged” -as if he’d been, all along, unaware of his responsibilities and is only just now lifting his head from his pillow, rubbing his eyes and asking Condi, “What’s goin’ on?” Are we to be thankful that, with millions of lives at stake, he’s actually “engrossed,” and “absorbed” or are we to be even more disheartened that the Times and Dubya’s crew are working so much overtime to convince us that, if given the opportunity, he could point out Iraq for us on a globe?

The actual article itself, penned by Times writer, Elisabeth Bumiller, seeks to mollify the reader by reporting that, indeed, Dubya receives daily intelligence briefings, consults with his cabinet and, according to Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of Defense, “asks very good questions.” Just like a real president!

Of course the administration wants to project Dubya’s confidence, competence and resolve right now. They do so, of course, because he’s unable to do it himself. I imagine that each day Karl Rove and Andrew Card assign any number of the inner circle to toting Dubya’s leadership abilities behind the scenes. There’s rarely a day that passes when somebody doesn’t offer up a anecdote concerning the president’s seemingly preternatural abilities to figure things out.

By way of example, Bumiller writes that the president has asked “for assessments of the strength and ferocity of the Republican Guard troops around Baghdad, who American forces must battle before taking the city. He has also questioned the repeated delays of humanitarian aid to the southern Iraqi city of Basara, where the shortage of food and water is near crisis.”

And here you might have thought, as a concerned citizen, that you and a few million other folks were the only ones concerned about such things as the horrifying prospects of prolonged urban guerilla warfare and starvation. Not so. Move over and make way for the president! He’s on the phone with Condi and Tommy right now and he’s formulating actual questions. At 55, finding himself in the surprising position of leading the most powerful country in the world- one presently engaged in arguably the most contentious military operation in 30 years (that nagging word, “quagmire” is appearing again) is discovering politics. The Times, thankfully, is there to report of it.

Now, are we to be surprised by this? Gladdened? How about distressed? On Thursday at Camp David, Bush and Blair gave a joint news conference. Much has already been made of this, in particular the differences inherent in both leader’s responses to questions, but it bears repeating. When asked repeatedly for some kind of time-line for the war in Iraq, Dubya reverted to belligerence, frothing (four times) “However long it takes.” Later, when asked why the war lacked the participation of so many key Western allies, Dubya snarled, “We’ve got plenty of Western allies. (At this point the Times transcript reports that the president laughs- the laugh, no doubt, of indignation). We got, I mean, we can give you the list.”

Give us the list? Translation: “We’ve got plenty of Western allies. I can’t think of a single one right now asshole, how dare you ask me such a thing, but I know Condi printed me up a list once before. There were lots of names on it!”

This kind of bumbling keeps Rove up at night. Tony Blair’s answer to this second question offered the kind of intellectual nuance and transparency that behooves any democratically elected leader. I may not agree with Blair’s response, but I definitely respect his earnest effort to engage the question and offer a detailed response outlining his position. Time and time again Dubya has proven that he’s incapable of doing the same.

This administration likes to keep the president away from spontaneity. When he’s ill-prepared and not being lobbed predetermined softball questions, he tenses up, grimaces and fumbles. His handlers like to keep him in front of the teleprompters and friendly audiences. They love the articles like Bumiller’s- supremely controlled puff pieces loaded with examples of Dubya’s powers of concentration and curiosity. It’s a load of public relations crap.

This president is in way over his head.

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