My Two Cents On Bush On Russert

by Clifford D. May

Full disclosure: I listened to the interview, I didn’t watch, so I didn’t see what was conveyed by body language.

To be honest, my expectations were low. I thought it possible that Russert would wrestle him quickly to the mat and pin him for a three-count. It did not seem to me that that is what took place.

Bush will never be a silver-tongued smoothie, but there’s a benefit to that. He also never sounds rehearsed – and no amount of rehearsal is likely to change that.

Also: Bush genuinely holds beliefs and convictions, and that comes through. It is one of the characteristics that make millions of Americans trust and admire him – even while it repels tens of thousands of relativist intellectuals who are convinced that ambivalence and Hamlet-like indecision are the natural conditions of the thinking man.

Bush’s core beliefs should be a key contrast with Sen. John Kerry, who fought in Vietnam but then joined Jane Fonda in the anti-war movement; who threw away his medals, but – as it turns out – actually threw away someone else’s medals so he’d have his later in case he needed them; who voted against challenging Saddam Hussein in 1990, evidently not recognizing the danger that would be posed by Saddam astride an expanding oil-rich empire and, we now know, well on his way to possessing a nuclear bomb; who voted for the 2002 war resolution but says he didn’t understand it gave Bush the authority to go to war without permission from Jacques Chirac and Kofi Annan; who supports our troops but voted against spending money on them; who rails against special interest even while collecting truckloads of special interest money, etc., etc.

Will this contrast be clear to voters 6 months from now? I’m not sure. Much will depend on the skill of the candidates’ respective staffs. Bush does not do that sort of “negative” politics himself. John Edwards gets great credit for not talking ill of his opponents. Bush never gets any credit for showing the same restraint.

I thought Bush made the case for toppling Saddam as well as he could – which is to say not as well as others have made it. (Victor Davis Hanson springs to mind.)

Russert called Iraq “a pre-emptive war.” It really wasn’t – and I say that as someone who strongly favors pre-emption as a policy.

Here’s what I think Russert and others misunderstand: In exchange for the ceasefire of 1991, Saddam had agreed to disarm and to do so in a verifiable manner. He never complied with that obligation. He had agreed to stop butchering his people. He never complied with that obligation either. As of 1998, the Iraq Liberation Act was the official bipartisan policy of the US government. If Iraq’s liberation could have been achieved through diplomacy or sanctions or assisting Iraqi dissidents that would have been dandy. But how many years does it require to see that those means would not be adequate to achieve our policy ends?

Saddam was told again and again that it was his job to prove to us that he no longer had the intention or the capability to do harm. Saddam refused to do that.

Either Saddam or the US had to back down. Had we backed down, there would have been grave consequences. And so the President took action – eliminating a national security threat and sending a message to other despots that with 9/11 as a hard lesson learned, we would no longer wait until our imperfect intelligence community was unanimously 100% certain that a threat was “imminent,” that no longer would we give those who had declared themselves our enemies the benefit of every doubt.

That, too, is leading to consequences in Libya and other places. But what we’ve achieved will be undermined if the next occupant of the Oval Office repudiates these policies, if the next president, in effect, returns to the flawed pre-9/11 policy paradigms.

I do wish the President had made that clearer. But maybe that’s the mission of his campaign in the months ahead.