Questions George Bush Didn't Answer

One of the problems with TV interviews is that there's only so much time. An hour-long program is actually about forty-two minutes, once you take out the commercials. Even so, each continuous stretch only runs for eight minutes. Since the interviewer wants to get through every question, a skilful interviewee can dodge unsavoury questions by stalling until time runs out.

On Sunday, February 8, 2004, President George W. Bush appeared on NBC's Meet the Press with Tim Russert. Bush talked for a while after each question, and that seems to have been good enough for Russert, who had plenty of other questions to ask.

The questions themselves were fairly tame, considering all the controversy that should be hanging over Bush's head, but for some reason isn't. In spite of Russert's gentle treatment, Bush still dodged a number of those questions, answering in circumlocutions that skirted the issues. This is surprising, since Russert prides himself on taking "the third, fourth, fifth time trying to pull the truth out of a politician" if that's necessary.

The following analysis highlights those cases where Bush simply didn't answer the question. Where Bush answered a question but did so dishonestly, for example when he denies that he "brought the nation to war under false pretences" because he made his decision "on the best intelligence possible", I don't include it here. Also, I'm concerned only with the questions Russert asked regarding Iraq.

(A transcript of the interview is posted on the MSNBC News site.)

Question: "You have been reluctant to [look into Iraq intelligence failures] for some time. Why?"

Non-Answer: Bush talked about the role of intelligence in fighting terrorists, explained that "we need a good intelligence system", described the commission as a "kind of lessons learned" analysis, and pointed out that "there is a lot of investigations [sic] going on" regarding intelligence. He finished by asserting that a president needs good intelligence to "make good calls" in the "war on terror." He never explained why he was reluctant to strike the committee.

Question: "Will you testify before the [intelligence] commission?"

Non-Answer: Bush said he'd be "glad to visit" with the commission, "share with them" his knowledge, and "make recommendations". Then he said he believes that George Tenet is doing a good job leading the CIA. He didn't say whether he would testify.

Question: "Will you testify before [the 9/11] commission?"

Non-Answer: Bush talked about his "extraordinary cooperation" with the commission, and warned that if the Presidential Daily Briefs are made public, it could impact the future "product" he or future presidents receive from an intelligence community afraid of being second-guessed. When pressed for an answer, he said, "Perhaps, perhaps."

Question: "Do we have a pretty good idea where Osama is?"

Non-Answer: "You know, I'm not going to comment on that."

Question: "[C]an you launch a pre-emptive war without iron-clad, absolute intelligence that he had weapons of mass destruction?"

Non-Answer: Bush insisted that "there is no such thing necessarily in a dictatorial regime of iron-clad absolutely solid evidence", and maintained that he was correct in believing Saddam "had the ability to make a weapon." Russert tried to make a point about Bush saying "he has biological and chemical weapons" and Bush interrupted by saying, "Which he had." No one's disputing that Saddam had these weapons at one time. The question concerned whether he still had those weapons in the lead-up to the invasion.

Question: "[D]o you believe if you had gone to the Congress and said he should be removed because he's a threat to his people but I'm not sure he has weapons of mass destruction, Congress would authorize war?"

Non-Answer: Bush said that Congress saw the same intelligence he saw (true enough, although the public version excluded all the caveats, qualifications, and dissenting opinions that the classified version contained), and said that everyone "made this judgment that Saddam Hussein needed to be removed." However, if Bush had spoken about what the intelligence actually said, doubts and all, it is not at all clear that Congress would have gone along. He didn't address this distinction in his response. Instead, he talked about "pre-emption", going to the UN, and Libya's announcement that it was dismantling its weapons program.

Question: "Did we miscalculate how we would be treated and received in Iraq?"

Non-Answer: Bush said he thinks "we are welcomed in Iraq" and questions "the tone" of Russert's question. After Russert rephrased the question, Bush insisted that those who don't welcome America "desperately want to stop the advance of freedom and democracy", which is a "powerful long-term deterrent to terrorist activities." That is, instead of answering the question, Bush tried to marginalize anyone who refused to follow the script that says America would be welcomed.

Question: "If the Iraqis choose ... an Islamic extremist regime, would you accept that"?

Non-Answer: Bush ducks the question by insisting that Iraqis won't choose an extremist regime, because Iraq's leaders "want a constitution eventually written that recognizes minority rights and freedom of religion."

Ryan McGreal
February 12, 2004

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