Wednesday, April 14, 2004

The press conference, apologizing, and admitting mistakes 

TigerHawk's more widely read fellow bloggers are already hammering away at the press conference, pro and con. I will therefore confine myself to a few points, none of which are particularly original.

Oh how I wish the President were more articulate. His unwavering leadership is inspiring, but it would be so much more inspiring if he could speak as clearly as Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, or even, heaven forfend, Richard Nixon. That the Bush family has produced two such utterly inarticulate Presidents is the most powerful evidence I have seen to support the idea that the country really is in the hands of an evil cabal.

Bush is right not to apologize. Does the principal apologize if some bully smacks you on the nose on the playground? No. The bully attacked you. Did Winston Churchill apologize when the Luftwaffe indiscriminately bombed British civilians? No, even though we now know that in at least one case he let a terrible attack occur rather than revealing that we had broken the Nazis codes. Those advocates of a presidential apology who are not motivated by their desire that Bush lose in November -- and they are few and far between -- have mistaken Islamist jihad for some sort of natural force, like the weather. If an earthquake destroys Los Angeles and the federal government responds incompetently, the President should apologize. It is the government's job to prepare for and respond to predictable events. However, our primary means for dealing with enemies -- who are actors to whom culpability may be assigned -- is to deter them. We deterred the Soviet Union for 50 years. If we fail to deter a deterrable enemy, then we have not done a good job defending the country and perhaps an apology is in order. Neville Chamberlain should have apologized, perhaps, for letting Hitler remilitarize the Rhineland and the concessions at Munich. But when the enemy is suicidal and therefore cannot be deterred, it is the enemy, and only the enemy, that is culpable. Neither Clinton nor Bush need apologize for the attacks on September 11.

Bush needs to learn how not to admit he makes mistakes. I wonder what it is about the Bush administration that makes it so unwilling to admit mistakes. One theory popular among Bush's opponents is that the lot of them are pig-headed and arrogant. I'm not sure that's what's going on -- Bush has humbled himself before. He had the courage to admit that he was a slave to alcohol, and he has humbled himself to his religion. My guess is that Rove and company have made the tactical judgment that any admission that "mistakes were made" will be replayed constantly by the media and the Kerry campaign out of context, and that it is therefore better just to dig in and concede nothing. It is nevertheless frustrating for those of us who want to see the President succeed that he is so poor at dealing with this issue -- the squirming last night was positively uncomfortable.

Here's what I would say, if asked whether I made any mistakes:

"We've made a great many very difficult decisions in this administration, both before and after September 11. In making those decisions, we assessed and weighed the information that we had at the time, and did the best we could. I honestly believe that those decisions were the best that could be made at the time they were made.

"Of course, we live in an uncertain world, and everybody makes decisions that don't work out for one reason or another. In retrospect, there are countless things that we might have done differently to avoid some of the challenges we face today. But how can we know that in avoiding today's troubles we would not have created other even more terrible challenges? Suppose, for example, that we had delayed the war by a few weeks or months so that we could have gone in with more troops, as various people have advocated. Well, we might very well have suffered many more casualties fighting a more prepared enemy in the terrible heat of the Iraqi summer.

"With the bias of hindsight, you can always wish that you had acted differently. What you cannot know is whether other unexpected events with even more difficult consequences would have occurred had you acted differently. Next question."

Clinton or Blair could have said that, but even TigerHawk's lame effort is beyond President Bush.


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