March 11, 2003

One More Time, Mr. President

In this case, we know what the questions are going to be, and those are the ones we want to answer. We think the public will see the thought and care and attention he’s given to a lot of the different questions that are being asked about the diplomatic side and the military side and the potential post-Iraq issue. These are all legitimate questions that he has answers for and wants to talk about.

Dan Bartlett
White House Communications Chief

We need intelligent answers, Mr. President. Many lives are depending on you.

I was stupefied by your performance at last Thursday’s press conference. Speaking extemporaneously isn’t your strongest suit and, after watching you, I’m not surprised some, like Tom Shales of the Washington Post, would speculate you might have been medicated. At this critical time in history, just what image are you trying to project to the American people and to the world?

The Toronto Star reports the whole event was scripted. I agree. Very few of your answers actually responded to the questioner’s query. The “thought and care and attention” your communications chief said was given to your replies came across as repetitive and deflective. According to Antonia Zerbisias, author of the Star article, “This is much the same attitude displayed by the very regime Bush wants to topple. For example, last month Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz refused to take a question from an Israeli journalist, even though he answered the same question when it was posed by another reporter.”

Zerbisias continues: “Bush pulled a similar stunt when he ignored a long-running White House tradition of taking questions from syndicated columnist Helen Thomas who has covered every president since John F. Kennedy. But then, she’s the journalist who had the temerity to say that Bush was ‘the worst president ever.’ Yet snubbing her was so shocking that even the conservative Washington Times, said to be Bush’s paper of choice, noted it.”

“What’s the message? If you cross the president or Ari [Fleischer, White House Press Secretary], you too will get banned?” White House journalist Russell Mokhiber, who edits Corporate Crime Reporter, told Zerbisias the day after the press conference.

David S. Broder writes in the Washington Post today: “The lesson we learned about Bush is the power — and the danger — that derives from his capacity to take even the most weighty presidential decisions and refine them to the simplest terms… Whatever he was asked, Bush reiterated the almost formulaic set of propositions that leave him convinced, as he put it, that if Saddam Hussein ‘should be disarmed, and he’s not going to disarm, there’s only one way to disarm him’ —war.”

And just to be fair, attending reporters seemed as somnolent and disengaged as you, Mr. President. After each “answer” they acted as if you really responded their questions. Were they simply as shocked as me?

Broder assessment is similiar: “I was astonished and dismayed that in the first opportunity to quiz the president in four months, not one question was asked about the shaky economy or the out-of-control federal budget. The very next day came news of the largest monthly jump in unemployment since the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and an official estimate that Bush’s budget proposals would add $2.7 trillion to the national debt in the next 10 years. An economically cushioned set of reporters seemingly couldn’t care less about this looming disaster. Talk about being out of touch!”

On yesterday’s Diane Reim Show, Vincent Cannistraro, former CIA senior intelligence official in charge of counterterrorism operations and analysis, and self-proclaimed Hawk, stated there was no doubt we would win a war with Iraq but even he had doubts that we could win the peace if you continue on this unilateral war path.

Because the stakes are so high, Mr. President, and the world public deserves some straight answers, I’d like to give you a second chance to answer those questions. Here they are. Feel free to drop me an email or just leave your answers in my comment section.

QUESTION: Let me see if I can further — if you could further define what you just called this important moment we’re in. Since you made it clear just now that you don’t think that Saddam has disarmed and we have a quarter million troops in the Persian Gulf and now that you’ve called on the world to be ready to use force as a last resort, are we just days away from the point at which you decide whether or not we go to war? And what harm would it do to give Saddam a final ultimatum, a two- or three-day deadline to disarm or face force?

QUESTION: Another hot spot is North Korea. If North Korea restarts their plutonium plant, will that change your thinking about how to handle this crisis? Or are you resigned to North Korea becoming a nuclear power?

QUESTION: Mr. President, you and your top advisers, notably Secretary of State Powell, have repeatedly said that we have shared with our allies all of the current, up-to-date intelligence information that proves the imminence of the threat we face from Saddam Hussein and that they have been sharing their intelligence as well. If all of these nations, all of them our normal allies, have access to the same intelligence information, why is it that they are reluctant to think that the threat is so real, so imminent that we need to move to the brink of war now?

And in relation to that, today, the British foreign minister, Jack Straw, suggested at the U.N. that it might be time to look at amending the resolution perhaps with an eye toward a timetable, like that proposed by the Canadians some two weeks ago, that would set a firm deadline to give Saddam Hussein a little bit of time to come clean. And also, obviously, that would give you a little bit of a chance to build more support with any members of the Security Council.

Is that something that the governments should be pursuing at the U.N. right now?

QUESTION: Sir, if you haven’t already made the choice to go to war, can you tell us what you are waiting to hear or see before you do make that decision? …I wonder why you think so many people around the world take a different view of the threat that Saddam Hussein poses than you and your allies.

QUESTION: Sir, how would you answer your critics who say that they think is somehow personal? As Senator Kennedy put it tonight, he said your fixation with Saddam Hussein is making the world a more dangerous place.

And as you prepare the American people for the possibility of military conflict, could you share with us any of the scenarios your advisers have shared with you about worst-case scenarios, in terms of the potential cost of American lives, the potential cost to the American economy and the potential risks of retaliatory terrorist strikes here at home?

QUESTION: May I follow up on (a previous) question? In the past several weeks your policy on Iraq has generated opposition from the governments of France, Russia, China, Germany, Turkey, the Arab League and many other countries, opened a rift at NATO and at the U.N. and drawn millions of ordinary citizens around the world into the streets into anti-war protests.

May I ask what went wrong that so many governments and peoples around the world now not only disagree with you very strongly, but see the U.S. under your leadership as an arrogant power?

QUESTION: If you order war, can any military operation be considered a success if the United States does not capture Saddam Hussein, as you once said, “Dead or alive?”

QUESTION: Is success contingent upon capturing or killing Saddam Hussein in your mind?

QUESTION: Mr. President, to a lot of people it seems that war is probably inevitable, because many people doubt — most people I would guess — that Saddam Hussein will ever do what we are demanding that he do, which is disarm.

And if war is inevitable, there are a lot of people in this country — as much as half by polling standards — who agree that he should be disarmed, who listen to you say that you have the evidence, but who feel they haven’t seen it, and who still wonder why blood has to be shed if he hasn’t attacked us.

QUESTION: As you said, the Security Council faces a vote next week on a resolution implicitly authorizing an attack on Iraq. Will you call for a vote on that resolution, even if you aren’t sure you have the votes?

QUESTION: No matter what?

QUESTION: Mr. President, are you worried that the United States might be viewed as defiant of the United Nations if you went ahead with military action without specific and explicit authorization from the U.N.?

QUESTION: Even though our military can certainly prevail without a northern front, isn’t Turkey making it at least slightly more challenging for us, and therefore at least slightly more likely that American lives will be lost? And if they don’t reverse course, would you stop backing their entry into the European Union?

QUESTION: Mr. President, as the nation is at odds over war, with many organizations like the Congressional Black Caucus pushing for continued diplomacy through the U.N., how is your faith guiding you? And what should you tell America? Well, what should America do collectively as you instructed before 9/11? Should it be pray? Because you are saying, “Let’s continue the war on terror.”

QUESTION: As you know, not everyone shares your optimistic vision of how this might play out. Do you ever worry, maybe in the wee, small hours, that you might be wrong and they might be right in thinking that this could lead to more terrorism, more anti-American sentiment, more instability in the Middle East?

QUESTION: Mr. President, if you decide to go ahead with military action, there are inspectors on the ground in Baghdad. Will you give them time to leave the country, or the humanitarian workers on the ground, or the journalists? Will you be able to do that and still mount an effective attack on Iraq?

QUESTION: Sir, you’ve talked a lot about trusting the American people when it comes to making decisions about their own lives, about how to spend their own money.

When it comes to the financial costs of the war, sir, it would seem that the administration surely has costed out various scenarios. If that’s the case, why not present some of them to the American people so they know what to expect, sir?

QUESTION: If I can follow on (a previous) question on North Korea, do you believe it is essential for the security of the United States and its allies that North Korea be prevented from developing nuclear weapons? And are you in any way growing frustrated with the pace of the diplomacy there?

QUESTION: Mr. President, millions of Americans can recall a time when leaders from both parties set this country on a mission of regime change in Vietnam. Fifty-thousand Americans died. The regime is still there in Hanoi and it hasn’t harmed or threatened a single American in 30 years since the war ended.

What can you say tonight, sir, to the sons and the daughters of the Americans who served in Vietnam to assure them that you will not lead this country down a similar path in Iraq?

QUESTION: In the coming days, the American people are going to hear a lot of debate about this British proposal of a possible deadline being added to the resolution or not. And I know you don’t want to tip your hand; this is a great diplomatic moment.

But from the administration’s perspective and your own perspective, can you share for the American public what you view as the pros and cons associated with that proposal?

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