Thomas L. Knapp
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Pressed conference
The obvious desperation of the Bush administration
by Thomas L. Knapp

I couldn't believe it -- so I sought the opinions of some friends. Yep, they said, you're right. He was transparently drunk.

Not "puking in the toilet" drunk, or even "that guy at the pool table looked at me funny and is about to get a knuckle sandwich" drunk, but he obviously had a few beers in him. Let's call it "relaxed enough to hit on the women in the bar even with this silver-dollar sized cold sore" drunk.

It worries me to know that things have gone so far downhill. When Dick and Colin can't even keep Dubyah off the sauce long enough to make a credible performance in his second prime-time press conference, there's a big problem.

Then again, if I had to face the American public under the same circumstances, I just might indulge in some liquid courage myself.

Bush is in a bad spot. More than year after he began beating, instead of just idly tapping, the drum for an invasion of Iraq, his foreign policy is in shambles.

300,000 American troops are on the ground in the Middle East, waiting for orders, and their Commander in Chief hasn't convinced anybody -- other than the people who whispered the suggestion in his ear in the first place, and the terminally credulous -- that there's any reason for them to be there.

Sixteen months after the invasion of Afghanistan, American forces are beginning to figure out why the Soviets eventually gave up. American generals point to spots on the map and say "we can't go there -- that's Taliban country." Jane's, the most respected of the civilian intelligence services, predicts a Taliban offensive this spring. Outside of the torture cells at U.S. bases in the country and -- sometimes -- the government district in Kabul, U.S. forces control, well, pretty much nothing.

Even after promoting Khalid Shaikh Mohammed from batboy to mastermind (and from #22 on the FBI's most wanted list to the top), resurrecting him (he was reported killed in a raid on his apartment last September) and arresting him (different raid, same apartment), Bush's people couldn't get their stories straight. The Pakistanis claimed to have him. The FBI claimed to have him. It's still unclear who, if anyone, has him, or if so whether they are in possession of a very ripe corpse or a live terrorist.

Russia promises to veto any UN Security Council resolution authorizing Bush's "bully little war." China, France and Germany are on their side. Turkey's "western-style democracy" has firmly voted no on the question of whether Turkey can be used as a jumping-off point for an invasion of Iraq.

Hardly inspiring or convincing. Things probably would look a whole lot better through the bottom of a glass of bourbon.

But, of course, we must go to the substance of his remarks, and get past the question of whether those remarks were informed by Pabst Blue Ribbon or Johnny Walker (Lindh) Red.

Bush says he doesn't want war, and I believe him -- to a degree. He doesn't want war for himself, as he proved when he wheedled daddy's friends into securing a billet for him in the Air National Guard, and then deserted, while his contemporaries were risking their lives in Vietnam. He's since proven himself far more relaxed in his views toward war for other people, though.

Bush also offers a lot of reasons to go to war with Iraq, but most of these reasons suffer from one of two defects (and, sometimes, both of them):

The claims which are demonstrably true don't constitute a case for war; and the claims which must be taken on faith ... well, folks, we're talking about a confirmed liar here, a guy who weaseled his way into the White House by staying just a few steps ahead of questions about his own desertion, cocaine arrests and drunk driving problems. And when a confirmed liar changes his tune every few days under constant questioning, there's a good bet that the confirmed liar is lying.

Last week, disarmament wasn't enough -- Saddam had to go into exile. This week, he doesn't give a rat's ass what Saddam does -- as long as Iraq disarms. In truth, it probably doesn't matter. If Iraq airmails Saddam to Pyongyang tomorrow and publicly destroys its weapons down to the last Makharov pistol, US troops will probably still get their jumping-off orders.

The cost? The bottom-line estimate from the Pentagon is $95 billion. Bush wasn't going to let himself be pinned down, though. Even three sheets to the wind, he knows that any number he names is probably going to be far below the actual cost, so he played the 9/11 card and waxed sentimental about the "cost of not doing anything" (disregarding the fact that he's spent the last year-and-a-half not doing anything about the 9/11 attacks, choosing instead to "nation-build" in Afghanistan and ramp up for war on Iraq).

And then he unleashed a real thigh-slapper ... he passed the buck to Congress! "We don't get to spend the money, as you know. We have to request the expenditure of money from the Congress, and, at the appropriate time, we'll request a supplemental." You have to request a declaration of war, too, George -- did that one slip your mind?

Bush seems to have slipped the leash on his handlers in allowing himself to be hornswoggled into responding that yes, the US would call for a UN Security Council vote even if they knew they would lose that vote. Paul Wolfowitz's office has been generating "leaks" about the possibility of withdrawing the US proposal for several days now, and Bush shot them down in a single moment of hubris, wandering from the script.

Other than that little lapse of control, however, he remained amazingly steady for someone in his condition, only occasionally grasping at the podium to regain his balance.

"Weapons of mass destruction, yada yada" (chemical and biological weapons were never "weapons of mass destruction" until Bush needed them to be for the purpose of justifying an invasion of Iraq; they're weapons of low military utility, primarily used for "area denial," i.e. for defensive purposes).

"9/11, ho, ho" (where's the link, George? You've had plenty of time to establish one -- if there was one. If you can't, shut up about it already).

"Training terrorists, yeah huh?" (the only "terror camp" so far evidenced is in the northern part of Iraq -- the part protected from Saddam by U.S. forces).

"Torture and murder, you dig" (sort of like what US forces are doing in Afghanistan, you mean?).

The scary part about the whole thing, though, is that in the end it's all just lip service anyway. Bush is going to have his war, whether it's justified or not. He knows it. We know it. He's publicly urinating on the heads of the American people. Why the extra effort to convince us that it's raining?

Somebody buy that man a beer. November of 2004 is last call, if the bouncer doesn't notice you first. You don't have to go home -- but you can't stay here.