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Bush Slipping and Spinning on Iraq and Wiretaps | The Nation

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 Washington: a city of denials, spin, and political calculations. The Nation's former DC editor David Corn spent 2002-2007 blogging on the policies, personalities and lies that spew out of the nation's capital. The complete archive appears below. Corn is now the DC editor at Mother Jones.

Bush Slipping and Spinning on Iraq and Wiretaps

In his Tuesday press conference, President Bush delivered the good news:

But I believe -- I believe the Iraqis -- this is a moment where the Iraqis had a chance to fall apart, and they didn't. And that's a positive development.

Not falling apart. That's hardly the prewar view of post-invasion Iraq Bush sold the American public three years ago. But "positive" has become a rather relative term regarding Iraq.

When asked whether he was concerned by the growing number of Americans who, according to the polls, are "questioning the trustworthiness of you and this White House," Bush replied,

I believe that my job is to go out and explain to people what's on my mind. That's why I'm having this press conference, see. I'm telling you what's on my mind. And what's on my mind is winning the war on terror.

Is that supposed to reassure Americans--or Iraqis? Such a remark prompts a larger question: why does Bush and the White House believe that sending him out to give a seemingly endless series of speeches on Iraq--and his plan for victory there--is going to change anything at this stage? This is the guy who said the war was about WMDs and who said virtually nothing when senior members of his administration before the war made it sound as if the post-invasion period would be a breeze. With that history, is sharing what's on Bush's mind about Iraq an effective strategy?

Asked about Senator Russ Feingold's bill to censure him for approving warrantless wiretapping conducted by the National Security Agency, Bush replied,

I think during these difficult times -- and they are difficult when we're at war -- the American people expect there to be an honest and open debate without needless partisanship. And that's how I view it. I did notice that nobody from the Democrat Party has actually stood up and called for getting rid of the terrorist surveillance program. You know, if that's what they believe, if people in the party believe that, then they ought to stand up and say it. They ought to stand up and say the tools we're using to protect the American people shouldn't be used. They ought to take their message to the people and say, vote for me, I promise we're not going to have a terrorist surveillance program.

No needless partisanship? It's not needless partisanship to accuse the Democrats of being opposed to a "terrorist surveillance program"? This was a good example of the White House's Rove-ian response to criticism of the wiretapping program: equate the controversial (if not illegal) wiretapping with all surveillance conducted of terrorist suspects, including that which occurs lawfully under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and is monitored by the FISA court established by that law. No Democrat puts forward the "message" that "we're not going to have a terrorist surveillance program." The only issue is whether wiretapping can be done outside of the FISA law--which Bush claims is permissible and which others (including assorted legal scholars) argue is illegal.

Dick Cheney took this counteroffensive one step further the day before Bush's press conference. Speaking at a GOP fundraiser at the Spread Eagle Tavern and Inn in Hanoverton, Ohio--pop. 388--he blasted Feingold and other critics of the warrantless wiretapping, by saying, "This outrageous proposition that we ought to protect al Qaeda's ability to communicate as it plots against America poses a key test for the Democratic leaders."

So here Cheney was not only whacking Democratic critics for being opposed to what Bush calls "a terrorist surveillance program." He assailed these Democrats for protecting al Qaeda's "ability to communicate."

Is not such rhetoric a tad partisan--and demagogic? He is accusing Dems of helping the mass murderers of 9/11. But since the Bush administration decided not to extend its "terrorist surveillance program" to domestic communications of terrorism suspects (and limited the warrant-free wiretapping to communications involving at least one overseas party), couldn't the same be said of the Bush-Cheney administration--that the president and the vice president are protecting the ability of al Qaeda suspects to communicate within the United States? It certainly could--if you were willing to engage in needless partisanship.

As for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, Bush did set something of a negative timetable. "Will there come a day--and I'm not asking you when, not asking for a timetable--will there come a day," a reporter asked, "when there will be no more American forces in Iraq?" Bush answered:

That, of course, is an objective, and that will be decided by future Presidents and future governments of Iraq.

In other words, three more years of US troops in Iraq--at least. Now that sounds like a no-spin-answer.

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