How bizarre is this? Bush and the US media working together - thinking out loud, almost - to try to figure out a way to spin what's happening in Iraq as good news:
Q: I want to go on the air –How crazy is that?
THE PRESIDENT: You want to say, 12 million people voted, or we killed Zarqawi.
Q: I want to go on the air tonight, I want some good news. I need some good news, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I do, too.
Q: I really do.
THE PRESIDENT: You're talking to Noah about the flood. I do, too.
Q: It's a hard thing.
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that, but – go ahead.
Q: You said if we leave Iraq they'll come after us –
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q: – we've heard you say that quite specifically. So maybe that's a sign of victory, is that they haven't come here.
THE PRESIDENT: Look, he's trying – this is so hard. That's what makes this more difficult – I don't know what Harry Truman was feeling like, or Franklin Roosevelt. But I do know – I'm sure there were moments of high frustration for them – but I do know that at Midway, they were eventually able to say two carriers were sunk and one was damaged. We don't get to say that. A thousand of the enemy killed, or whatever the number was. It's happening; you just don't know it. And there's no scorecard. There's not a scoreboard that makes it – great, four more schools – that doesn't score, that doesn't mean anything.
You know, Larry, I've thought long and hard about this, because it is precisely what is frustrating most people. Most people out there – I agree with you – those who say we shouldn't have been there, they're clear. A lot of people – one time I – well, a lot of people are just saying, you're not doing enough to win. We're not winning, you're not doing enough to win, and I'm frustrated, I want it over with, with victory. And I'm trying to figure out a matrix that says things are getting better. I think that one way to measure is less violence than before, I guess...
Bush says real progress in Iraq is "happening, you just don't know it". But his own forces are the ones who "don't do body counts" so of course there is no "scorecard" for him to point to.
Would it help him to point to 3,000 US deaths versus 655,000 Iraqi deaths? Would that constitute "good news"? Would that constitute "victory"?
UPDATE: As Greg Sargent reveals, the quote above is not actually from Bush's press conference yesterday, but from a follow-up interview in the Oval Office which he gave to eight conservative columnists.
People want to know, can you win? That's what they want to know. I mean, there's – look, there's some 25 percent or so that want us to get out, shouldn't have been out there in the first place – and that's fine. They're wrong. But you can understand why they feel that way. They just don't believe in war, and – at any cost. I believe when you get attacked and somebody declares war on you, you fight back. And that's what we're doing.As Atrios says (yet again), "we weren't attacked by Iraq. No wonder they hate us."
UPDATE 2: Dan Froomkin weighs in:
It's becoming increasingly clear that Bush sees the war in Iraq in very simple terms. As he himself said, he believes that the only way to lose is to leave. Therefore anything else is winning -- anything else at all.Froomkin cites Bush's opening remarks:
Even if no progress is being made -- even if things are getting worse, rather than better -- simply staying is winning.
So we're winning.
Bush expanded on this principle in a fascinating, one-hour Oval Office interview yesterday afternoon with a half-dozen conservative journalists... The result was a slew of disjointed, sometimes not particularly intelligible, but sometimes deeply telling insights into his thinking about the war. It's a heckuva read.
"Abizaid, who I think is one of the really great thinkers, John Abizaid -- I don't know if you've ever had a chance to talk to him, he's a smart guy -- he came up with this construct: If we leave, they will follow us here. That's really different from other wars we've been in. If we leave, okay, so they suffer in other parts of the world, used to be the old mantra. This one is different. This war is, if they leave, they're coming after us. As a matter of fact, they'll be more emboldened to come after us. They will be able to find more recruits to come after us.So we ARE staying the course, after all. And everybody we are fighting in Iraq is still a terrrrrst. And the world is still flat. UPDATE 3: Another snippet from E&P:
"Abizaid clearly sees this struggle -- he sees the effects of victory in Iraq as having a major impact on other parts of the Middle East. He also sees the reciprocal of that, a defeat -- just leaving -- the only defeat is leaving, is letting things fall into chaos and letting al Qaeda have a safe haven."
As for "stay the course"? Said Bush: "This stuff about 'stay the course' -- stay the course means, we're going to win. Stay the course does not mean that we're not going to constantly change."
"And they're coming. ... That's why we need to be on the offense all the time. Iraq is the central part of this global war right now." ...Bush did not say how he defines victory: by seizing control of Iraq's oil on behalf of his Big Oil buddies.
Another columnist asked: "Isn't the problem that the American people were behind -- solidly behind -- this when you went in and you toppled the Taliban, when you go in and you topple Saddam. But when it just seems to be a kind of thankless semi-colonial policing defensive operation with no end -- I mean, where is the offense in this?"
Part of Bush's reply: "I share the same frustration you share." But he didn't answer the question directly.
Another columnist said even conservatives wonder if the U.S. is winning in Iraq, and asked: "How can you measure winning? The last couple of years there just doesn't seem to be any signals or signs that we're winning."
Bush answered: "That is the significant disadvantage we have in this war because the enemy gets to define victory by killing people."