Where is President George W. Bush? That question was answered Tuesday when the president gave a press conference at the White House. But his response to escalating violence in Iraq came later than many would have liked.
In a decisive opening statement the president said the situation in Iraq has led to what has “been a tough week” Bush added “if additional forces are needed, I will send them,” answering the call of many of his advisors and critics that more troops would indeed be needed. He also repeatedly mentioned the June 30 deadline when leadership of Iraq is planned to transfer to its people. Bush said to step away from the deadline could make the Iraqi people “feel betrayed” and likely would result in even more bloodshed. He vowed, “We will not step back from our pledge.”
While appearing decisive and presidential — using such memorable imagery in his statement like “on June 30, when the flag of free Iraq is raised, Iraqi officials will assume full responsibility” — Bush raised the bar for himself. If the situation in Iraq does not improve, he will most likely pay for it in the election.
The press conference, only the third primetime event of this type in his presidency, came at a time when Bush has been keeping a very low profile, with many wondering where he stood on issues like other countries’ involvement in Iraq.
In the last week, more than 70 troops were killed in Iraq, and 40 hostages from 12 countries were taken, some of whom have since been released. Members of his administration appeared on virtually every news outlet to express their views on the testimonies to the 9/11 Commission and the loss of troops and stability in Iraq. By contrast, the president remained noticeably absent from the airwaves.
Bush has been criticized before for not spending enough time at the White House.
Friday, The Washington Post said Bush had taken 33 trips to his ranch, totaling 233 days. Adding other vacations, including 78 trips to Camp David, Bush has spent “500 days in office at one of his three retreats, or more than 40 percent of his presidency,” the Post reported. He holds the record as the U.S. president with most vacation days.
These numbers do not sit well with the “hands-on” president and strong leader image that Bush is trying to project during his election campaign.
Regardless of his image, however, his downfall may be that he remains unwilling to admit he has made errors.
While several other reporters tried to get a straight answer from Bush, he evaded most questions. One journalist asked if there was anything that he would have done differently in retrospect and now sees as a mistake. Bush pondered for a moment, then said, “I am sure something will pop into my head before this press conference is over.” He then quipped, “(You) put me on the spot here and maybe I am not as quick to come up with something as I should be.” Another reporter came right out and spoke his mind. “You never admit a mistake,” he said as part of his question.
When asked about the alleged weapons of mass destruction that have not been found in Iraq, Bush put a spin on the news that his administration has been criticized for in the past. He said the country had learned from the “lesson of Sept. 11,” then immediately declared, “Saddam (Hussein) was a threat” since he “had used WMDs on his own people.” This continues to create the illusion that Hussein had been tied to the attacks on Sept. 11, a fact that has repeatedly been proven wrong. It also creates the misconception that WMDs have been found, as he said Hussein had clearly used them.
But like the president said, “The voters will decide next November” if they deem him a worthy leader of their country.
Until then, Bush will be hoping that the transfer of power in Iraq will occur with a minimal number of problems. Whether he will win a second term may depend on it.