No New Contrition
Friday, May 26, 2006; 12:51 PM
Reading and watching the coverage of President Bush's joint news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair last night, you could be forgiven for concluding that Bush had suddenly started acknowledging the error of his ways.
But you would be wrong.
Bush expressed regrets last night for some of the cowboy rhetoric of his first term, and he acknowledged that the horrific prison abuse at Abu Ghraib was a big mistake.
But he wasn't really conceding much. In the former case, he was expressing regret about style, not substance; and in the latter case, the only harm he acknowledged was to America's reputation -- while taking no responsibility for any role he might have had in creating the conditions in which such atrocities could take place.
And even more to the point, none of this was new. Reporters describing this as some sort of Bushian sea change seemed to be suffering from self-imposed amnesia.
Bush first acknowledged regrets about his most outlandish swaggering almost a year and a half ago, in an interview that may have been disregarded by many reporters simply because it wasn't on television -- which of course is no excuse.
See my January 14, 2005 column: Second Thoughts About 'Bring 'em On' . As I wrote at the time: "Calling it 'a confession, a regret, something,' President Bush acknowledged in a round-table interview with regional newspapers yesterday that he has had second thoughts about two of his more swaggering comments from the first term, including his notorious utterance: 'Bring 'em on.'"
Here's what Bush said then: "It kind of, some interpreted it to be defiance in the face of danger. That certainly wasn't the case. Or, you know, 'dead or alive' in referring to Osama bin Laden at the Pentagon. I can remember getting back to the White House, and Laura said, 'What did you do that for?'"
And Bush has several times before addressed Abu Ghraib the same way he did last night: Expressing regret without responsibility. See, for instance, my May 7, 2004 column: About That Apology .
Last night, what got the most attention from reporters was Bush's answer to a perennial question, this time from a British journalist:
"Mr. President, you spoke about missteps and mistakes in Iraq. Could I ask both of you which missteps and mistakes of your own you most regret?"
Bush responded wearily: "Sounds like kind of a familiar refrain here." Back in his last prime-time news conference -- in April 2004 -- he famously was unable to come up with a single mistake, or lesson learned.