This interview that WaPo reporters Michael A. Fletcher and Jim VandeHei got with Fearless Leader aboard Air Force One last Friday is interesting to me in a number of ways: Transcript of Bush interview.
The main way in which it’s interesting to me, though, is that it amounts to the closest thing to an unfiltered insight into Bush’s views that I think we’re going to get these days. Famously press-conference-averse, and given the way he approaches those events defensively, with an eye to a pre-screened list of questioners and the implied threat of access-reduction for anyone who gets too aggressive, we just don’t get much of a view of Bush at those anymore.
But in this setting, letting his hair down and being chummy with a couple of his pals, there’s a better chance that Bush will let his guard down for a minute and just talk, letting you see what’s really going on in his head.
And so he did in this talk, which I guess I’ll quote from extensively, to protect the following from link rot. Here’s the part at the beginning that dealt with Iraq, though I encourage you to read the whole thing, if this sort of thing interests you:
The Post: There was this report — it was reported in the papers this morning — from the National Intelligence Council. Always by our front-page stories. (Laughter.) Right there. And it essentially says that Iraq has become a terrorist breeding ground, it’s created terrorists who are going to take those new terrorist talents and go elsewhere after the war. Is this at all contradicting your assertion that you’re always making America safer from terrorists?
THE PRESIDENT: The report — and I welcome these studies — basically says America must stay on the offense. And there are two ways to stay on the offense. One, use our intelligence services, as well as the intelligence services of friends and allies, to find people and bring them to justice before they hurt us, and secondly, to spread freedom. And it’s a — I think the report was somewhat speculative; this could happen. And I agree. If we’re not diligent and firm, there will be pockets of — parts of the world that become pockets for terrorists to find safe haven and to train. And we have a duty to disrupt that. I firmly believe that a free Iraq will be a major defeat for the Salafist movement and the extremist movement, those who want to use terror as a weapon to impose their will on millions of people throughout the world.
The Post: Secretary Powell said this week that American troops will begin leaving Iraq this year. Is that true?
THE PRESIDENT: The way I would put it is, American troops will be leaving as quickly as possible, but they won’t be leaving until we have completed our mission. And part of the mission is to train Iraqis so they can fight the terrorists. And the sooner the Iraqis are prepared — better prepared, better equipped to fight — the sooner our troops will start coming home.
The Post: Can you be sure that by the end of your second term, that there will be a significant reduction?
THE PRESIDENT: I’m still on the, as quick as possible.
The Post: Do you disagree with Colin Powell’s assessment, then, that he thinks it can be done?
THE PRESIDENT: My assessment is, is that we will — one of the reasons why the military sent an assessment team to Iraq recently was to assess our training mission, because success in Iraq will depend upon the Iraqis defeating the enemy. And so we’re constantly assessing to see whether — where we can improve training, how we can do things better, and what the Iraqis think they need, in order to do their job.
And so the troops have been helping to provide as much security as possible for the elections. The political process is going on. And at the same time, doing their job and training these Iraqis. So we’re constantly assessing, and that’s what this is. The panel will report back to determine how best to train the Iraqis. My answer to your question is, as soon as possible, based upon fulfilling the mission.
The elections — I am pleased that the elections are going forward. I recognize that there are a group of terrorists trying to stop the election process. I have been amazed by the spirit of the Iraqi people. There’s a big front-page story; I’m sure you read that. Please don’t tell me you haven’t.
The Post: I read them all.
THE PRESIDENT: Please don’t tell me you haven’t.
The Post: Read them all.
THE PRESIDENT: But there is a spirit there that I appreciate. And I talked to President Yawar today. I talked to Prime Minister Allawi earlier in the week. And they recognize that the terrorists are mean and tough, but they also are focused and determined that these elections go forward. And it is that determination which impresses me.
So the political process is unfolding. And it is a process. In other words, this is the election of an assembly, which will choose leadership. And out of that leadership will, obviously, become — we’ll work to develop — further refine the security strategy, as well as watch a process unfold that will write a constitution. And it’s important for people to understand that. Unlike our system, that has “the election,” and it defines what America — how America will be governed for four years, this is a process.
The Post: In Iraq, there’s been a steady stream of surprises. We weren’t welcomed as liberators, as Vice President Cheney had talked about. We haven’t found the weapons of mass destruction as predicted. The postwar process hasn’t gone as well as some had hoped. Why hasn’t anyone been held accountable, either through firings or demotions, for what some people see as mistakes or misjudgments?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 election. And the American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me, for which I’m grateful.
Listen, in times of war, things don’t go exactly as planned. Some were saying there was no way that Saddam Hussein would be toppled as quickly as we toppled him. Some were saying there would be mass refugee flows and starvation, which didn’t happen. My only point is, is that, on a complicated matter such as removing a dictator from power and trying to help achieve democracy, sometimes the unexpected will happen, both good and bad.
And the point is, there has to be a flexible strategy that will enable our commanders on the ground and our diplomats to be able to adjust strategy to meet the needs on the ground, all aiming at an eventual goal, which is a free and democratic Iraq, not in our image, in their image, according to their customs. See, we haven’t been — we’ve been there — sovereignty was transferred in June of 2004. So this has been a sovereign nation in its new form for less than a year. I’m optimistic about it, and so are a lot of other people who were there in Iraq –optimistic about that, being optimistic about the emergence of a free government.
I’m also mindful that it takes a while for democracy to take hold. Witness our own history. We weren’t — we certainly were not the perfect democracy and are yet the perfect democracy. Ours is a constitution that said every man — a system that said every man was equal, but in fact, every man wasn’t equal for a long period of time in our history. The Articles of Confederation were a bumpy period of time. And my only point is, is that I am realistic about how quickly a society that has been dominated by a tyrant can become a democracy. And therefore, I am more patient than some, but also mindful that we’ve got to get the Iraqis up and running as quickly as possible, so they can defeat these terrorists.
There’s no big OhMyGod moment in there. But what there is, at least for me, is a steady drip, drip, drip of confirmation that Bush really deals with this Iraq question on a very simplistic level. He has no clear strategy for how to exit the current quagmire, and will predictably just keep travelling down the same path.
Look for a pro-US proxy government to be installed in Iraq over the next four years. It won’t be particularly democratic, since true democracy in Iraq would require kicking out the increasingly hated Americans. We’ll probably get to start bringing some troops home, having outsourced the war of attrition with the insurgency to our Iraqi hirelings, but the insurgency will still be going strong.
The two things I love the most in the interview are the part where non-news-reader Bush admonishes the reporters about reading the front page, and of course, the part where he interprets the 2004 election as an “accountability moment,” which at once validated his every decision during his first term and gave him carte blanche to make whatever mistakes he wants to in his second. Which is true, from a certain point of view, I’ll grant you. But it’s still pretty breathtaking to see him assert it like that.
This is how the guy views himself: Infallible, accountable to no one, entitled. And yeah, in someone so demonstrably incompetent, it really bugs me. And I realize that those of you with Red State values don’t see it that way, and that at least for the moment, your views hold sway in the land.
But it still bugs me.