• He continues to be bewildered, or at least feign bewilderment in public, over why Americans would ever think that his war-making policies in the Middle East are inflexible and unlikely to be changed, even by informed and sympathetic criticism. “Somehow it seeped in their conscious that my attitude was just simply ‘stay the course,’” an exasperated Bush remarked to the reporters at one point. “‘Stay the course’ means, let’s get the job done, but it doesn’t mean staying stuck on a strategy or tactics that may not be working.” Right. This is the same incredible line the White House has been peddling for the last couple of weeks, and people still aren’t buying it. Probably because Bush has said “stay the course” at least dozens of times over the last three years, and not until the statement became a bone of contention during the midterm elections did he give the slightest indication that “stay the course” was simply Bushian shorthand for “I’m as flexible as a $100 whore.”
• The other thing that struck me about today’s press conference was Bush’s concession that he had deliberately lied to a contingent of reporters last week, saying that Rumsfeld and Cheney would “remain with him until the end of his presidency, extending a job guarantee to two of the most-vilified members of his administration.” The prez insisted: “Both those men are doing fantastic jobs and I strongly support them.” But then, just this afternoon, he flip-flopped, admitting that he’d been talking with Rumsfeld for “a period of time” about the latter’s imminent departure from the administration. When asked why he’d deceived reporters, Bush said testily:
… I didn’t want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign. And so the only way to answer that question and to get you on to another question was to give you that answer.(You’ll find the video here.)
The truth of the matter is, as well--I mean, that’s one reason I gave the answer, but the other reason why is I hadn’t had a chance to visit with Bob Gates yet, and I hadn’t had my final conversation with Don Rumsfeld yet at that point.
I had been talking with Don Rumsfeld over a period of time about fresh perspective. He likes to call it fresh eyes. He, himself, understands that Iraq is not working well enough, fast enough. And he and I are constantly assessing. And I’m assessing, as well, all the time, by myself, about, do we have the right people in the right place, or do we--got the right strategy? As you know, we’re constantly changing tactics. And that requires constant assessment.
And so he and I both agreed in our meeting yesterday that it was appropriate that I accept his resignation. And so the decision was made--actually, I thought we were going to do fine yesterday. Shows what I know. But I thought we were going to be fine in the election. My point to you is, is that, win or lose, Bob Gates was going to become the nominee.
So, the prez knew well before yesterday’s election that Rumsfeld--a cling-strip for criticism from both Democrats and Republicans--had one foot out the door, but he failed to tell anyone outside of his tightest inner circle. Instead, he pulled a “Rummy, you’re doing a heckuva job” routine, forcing GOP incumbents nationwide to defend the beleaguered secretary at the cost of their own jobs, and undercutting other Republican candidates who tried to make the case that they had a chance of convincing Bush to dump Rumsfeld. I’ll bet there are a lot of those folks who weren’t happy with the prez’s shuffling of the cabinet chairs today--one day late.
Nice going, Georgie.
This is the guy who insists that politics doesn’t dictate his decision-making? Hell, Bush is a politician through and through, a man who feels so entitled to his exalted place in society, that he doesn’t think twice about letting the people he’s supposed to be helping jump on their swords for no reason whatsoever.
READ MORE: “Rumsfeld’s Thumpin’,” by Mark Benjamin and Michael Scherer (Salon); “The Press Conference Bush Wanted to Give,” by William Saletan (Slate); “Fall of the House of Kitsch,” by Sidney Blumenthal (Salon).