I didn’t know Michael Kelly. I had just talked to him on the phone a couple of times, and met him once.
As it happened, it was a couple of months ago at the White House when a few conservative journalists were getting a briefing from the president about the State of the Union address the next night. When you admire someone’s byline so much for so long, you tend to pump them up in your own mind. You expect them to be, I don’t know what, super-human somehow. So I was shocked to meet Kelly — such a prodigious talent, such an unassuming, ordinary-seeming guy.
Kelly asked the question that most fired-up Bush. He asked whether America would have the resolve to see the Iraq war through if things went wrong, because many people were worried that the country still couldn’t withstand a difficult military action. Bush practically leapt out of his chair saying that he would see this through, no matter what.
Others tried to interrupt with other questions, but Bush wouldn’t let go, emphasizing to Kelly — “Michael, let me be clear” — over and over again that he would see this through.
Most of us didn’t know how to use this session since it all had to be attributed to a senior administration official. Kelly, of course, got a smart, entertaining, and spot-on column out of it.
Whenever I was reminded that he was over in Iraq, I would think how admirable and courageous it was, a big-time magazine editor with more important things to do, wanting to be on the scene, recording how the U.S. was seeing it through.