In the Rose Garden, It Was All Al-Qaeda

(Chip Somodevilla - Getty Images)
By Dana Milbank
Friday, May 25, 2007

Is there no safe haven for President Bush?

It happened midway through his news conference in the Rose Garden yesterday morning, in between his 10th and 11th mentions of al-Qaeda: A bird flew over the president and deposited a wet, white dropping on the upper left sleeve of his jacket. Bush wiped the mess off with his bare hand.

There was no evidence that Osama bin Laden was responsible for this particular attack, and -- who knows? -- maybe the terrorist leader believes the superstition that bird poop is good luck. But just about everything else that came up during the hour-long news conference was traced to bin Laden's terrorist network.

The session was called to draw attention to the fact that Democratic leaders had just caved in to Bush's demand that the Iraq spending bill have no withdrawal timeline. But as frequently happens at presidential events these days, it quickly became al-Qaeda, all the time. Bush invoked the terrorist group 19 times and even suggested it was going after individual reporters' kids.

"They are a threat to your children, David," he advised NBC's David Gregory.

"It's a danger to your children, Jim," Bush informed the New York Times' Jim Rutenberg.

This last warning was perplexing, because Rutenberg has no children, only a brown chow chow named Little Bear. It was unclear whether Bush was referring to a specific and credible threat to Little Bear or merely indicating there was increased "chatter in the system" about chow chows in general.

Rutenberg, informed of the pet threat, asked Bush a follow-up question about bin Laden. "Mr. President, why is he still at large?"

"Why is he at large?" Bush shot back. "Because we haven't got him yet, Jim."

Hard to argue with that. Even Steve Hadley, the poker-faced national security adviser, smiled. And Bush proceeded to favor his listeners with more intelligence bulletins about the al-Qaeda leader. "He's not out there traipsing around. He's not leading many parades," the president reported. "He's not out feeding the hungry."

Bush allowed himself only a brief gloat over the Democrats' surrender -- he showed only a hint of a smile when he noted that "we removed the arbitrary timetables for withdrawal" -- before moving on to outline the latest strategy in Iraq -- targeting al-Qaeda, of course. He cited "new opportunities to partner with local tribes to go after al-Qaeda."

"Is that a Plan B?" asked Jim Axelrod of CBS News.

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