After reading the transcript of President Bush's Monday press conference, I wanted to pass along a few gems from "Dubya."
Read the man's words yourself. Bush isn't answering questions. He is supplying lengthy sound-bites. He isn't providing leadership, he's reciting carefully crafted scripts. Nothing is wrong. No one has done anything wrong. The administration has never made a mistake. The people working for the president are all "superb."
You wonder how much time Bush spent rehearsing with Karl Rove ...
Thank you, Mr. President. Several Republican lawmakers recently have criticized Secretary Rumsfeld. What does he need to do to rebuild their trust?
Well, first of all, when I asked the Secretary to stay on as Secretary of Defense, I was very pleased
when he said "yes." And I asked him to stay on because I understand the nature of the job of the Secretary of Defense, and I believe he's doing a really fine job.
The Secretary of Defense is a complex job. It's complex in times of peace, and it's complex even more so in times of war. And the Secretary has managed this Department during two major battles in the war on terror -- Afghanistan and Iraq. ... And he's done a fine job
, and I look forward to continuing to work with him. ... He's been around in Washington a long period of time and he will continue to reach out to members of the Hill, explaining the decisions he's made. And I believe that in a new term, members of the Senate and the House will recognize what a good job he's doing.
Will members of the Senate and House recognize that Rumsfeld is doing a good job? Sure, the majority of conservative Republicans will obey the party line. (Note: I edited this Bush answer and the others that follow. There was no mention of the Q&A Rumsfeld conducted with National Guard troops, for which he was criticized. A full transcript of the press conference is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/12/20041220-3.html
Any lessons you have learned, sir, from the failed nomination of Bernard Kerik? As you look forward now to pick a new Director of the Homeland Security Department, and also as you pick a Director of National Intelligence, any lessons learned in terms of vetting?
Well, first, let me say that I was disappointed that the nomination of Bernard Kerik didn't go forward.
In retrospect, he made the right decision to pull his name down. He made the decision. There was a -- when the process gets going, our counsel asks a lot of questions and a prospective nominee listens to the questions and answers them and takes a look at what we feel is necessary to be cleared before the FBI check and before the hearings take place on the Hill. And Bernard Kerik, after answering questions and thinking about the questions, decided to pull his name down. I think he would have done a fine job as the Secretary of Homeland Security
, and I appreciate his service to our country. We've vetted a lot of people in this administration. We vetted people in the first, we're vetting people in the second term, and I've got great confidence in our vetting process.
: Kerik's world has just collapsed. His personal failures, which the media was able to uncover within days of his nomination, was a major black eye to the administration's vetting process. Did Bush learn any lessons? Of course not. In his conservative world, he can blame "liberal media bias" for taking Kerik away from him. And if that doesn't work, the conservative noise machine will be happy to substitute Rudy Giuliani, a pro-choice, pro-gay rights Republican who recommended Kerik to Bush. If they needed a final straw to make sure Giuliani has no future role in their national Republican party, the Kerik blow-up was it.
Thank you, Mr. President. You talked earlier about the importance of spending discipline in the federal budget, but you went your entire first term without vetoing a single spending bill, even though you had a lot of tough talk on that issue in your first term. And I'm wondering, this time around, what are you going to do to convince Congress you really are serious about cutting federal spending? Will you veto spending bills this time?
Here's -- here's what happened. I submitted a budget and Congress hit our number, which is a tribute to Senator Hastert and -- I mean, Senator Frist and Speaker Hastert's leadership. And then we came up with a budget that we thought was necessary, and we took it to the leadership and they accepted the budget. And they passed bills that met our budget targets. And so how could you veto a series of appropriations bills if the Congress has done what you've asked them to do? ... But overall, they have done a superb job of working with the White House to meet the budget numbers we submitted
, and so the appropriations bill I just signed was one that conformed with the budget agreement we had with the United States Congress. ... And we're working very closely with members of Congress as we develop the budget. And it's going to be a tough budget, no question about it, and it's a budget that I think will send the right signal to the financial markets and to those concerned about our short-term deficits. As well, we've got to deal with the long-term deficit issues.
: Another non-answer. The Congress and the President have done a superb job a) agreeing to budgets; and, b) creating massive deficits of escalating size, which in terms of actual dollars (not percentage of the nation's gross domestic product) have set new records for fiscal irresponsibility each year Bush has been president. The question asked if the president would be "serious" about cutting federal spending. Bush says he will be, but fails to say how. And given his track record, why should anyone believe these "spend-and-spend-some-more Republicans"? After all, those "long-term deficit issues" didn't create themselves. Bush can't blame anyone but his own party, so he doesn't -- making it sound like the big, bad deficit came about by itself, and like a sheriff in a John Wayne movie, he's the man to kill it.
Thank you very much, Mr. President. I wonder whether I could ask you two central questions about the war on terrorism. The first one is, do you have a sense of where Osama bin Laden is, and why the trail on him seems to have gone cold? And, secondly, how concerned are you by the reports of torture, to use your word, the interminable delays to justice, for the detainees held in Guantanamo, and how much that damages America's reputation as a nation which stands for liberty and justice internationally?
Right, thank you. If I had to guess
, I would guess that Osama bin Laden is in a remote region on the Afghan-Pakistan border. But I don't have to guess at the damage we have done to his organization. Many of his senior operators have been killed or detained. Pakistan government has been aggressive in pursuit of al Qaeda targets in Waziristan.
And I appreciate the work of President Musharraf. ... And al Qaeda is dangerous, no question about it, but we've got a good strategy
, and it's a strategy that requires cooperation with other nations, and the cooperation has been great when it comes to sharing intelligence and cutting off finances, and arresting people, or killing people. We'll stay on the hunt.
: The U.S. doesn't know where Osama is, but we've got a good strategy in dealing with Al Qaeda? Should someone remind the president that Al Qaeda committed eight attacks on the U.S. and its allies pre-9/11, and more than 30 since? Why has the trail gone cold? Good question, but the president doesn't know, and therefore doesn't answer. And have we cooperated with other nations? That's hardly a "slam dunk."
In terms of the second part of your -- oh, the damage. Look, we are a nation of laws and to the extent that people say, well, America is no longer a nation of laws -- that does hurt our reputation
. But I think it's an unfair criticism. As you might remember, our courts have made a ruling, they looked at the jurisdiction, the right of people in Guantanamo to have habeas review, and so we're now complying with the court's decisions. We want to fully vet the court decision, because I believe I have the right to set up military tribunals. And so the law is working to determine what Presidential powers are available and what's not available. We're reviewing the status of the people in Guantanamo on a regular basis. I think 200 and some-odd have been released. ...
: Let's review some facts Bush doesn't want to mention. Alberto Gonzales, Bush's nominee for Attorney General, convinced the Bush administration that the Geneva Convention did not apply to its actions at Guantanamo. Gonzales argued that the Geneva Convetion was obsolete, and that by not following it, the Bush administration improved its "flexibility" in fighting the war on terror. In other words, the official U.S. position was that it did not have to follow international law. Furthermore, Bush, during the debates, said the U.S. would not participate in the International Court of Justice. As for those who have been detained for two-plus years (some of whom have subsequently been released), realize there have only been a handful of convictions on anything related to "terrorism." This in spite of a Pentagon decision this year to boost its conviction rate by allowing "hearsay evidence" -- statements that, according to the Future of Freedom Foundation, might not have been made under oath, might be false, or might have been induced by duress or threats of violence, bribery, or blackmail. Why the lengthy detentions, the allowance of hearsay evidence, etc.? The Bush administration doesn't want to say. But one could assume that if they had the evidence to convict, they would have done so, and that the detentions are more for show, or for psychological benefit, than for providing any actual value in the greater "war on terror" against Al Qaeda. The U.S.' "guilty until proven innocent" policy at Guantanamo goes against the very freedom we say we are fighting for, and the Bush administration should be ashamed for its abuse of power in the name of the "war on terror."