President on a Mission

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, August 21, 2006; 2:20 PM

President Bush was on a mission this morning: Trying to stamp out a growing national consensus that things in the Middle East are going from bad to worse, and that it's past time to start bringing the troops home from Iraq.

"If you think it's bad now," Bush said bluntly, "imagine what Iraq would look like if the United States leaves before this government can defend itself and sustain itself. Chaos in Iraq would be very unsettling in the region. . . . Leaving before the job is done would be a disaster, and that's what we're saying."

And while Bush is opposed to any timetable for withdrawal, he clearly has some sense of a timetable for staying. "We're not leaving so long as I'm the president," Bush said. "That would be a huge mistake."

Bush held forth in a press conference called with less than two hours' notice this morning. And whether the topic was Iraq or Lebanon, Bush wasted no time on nuance or details that might have distracted from his central message. Here's the transcript .

Pretty much regardless of what he was asked, Bush had the same answer: That anything short of his policies is tantamount to surrendering to terrorists and would be disastrous.

Bush seemed much happier reframing the questions than answering them.

"And the question facing this country is, will -- do we, one, understand the threat to America? In other words, do we understand that a failed -- failed states in the Middle East are a direct threat to our country's security? And secondly, will we continue to stay engaged in helping reformers, in working to advance liberty, to defeat an ideology that doesn't believe in freedom?" he asked.

Repeatedly asked if he was frustrated by the lack of progress in Iraq -- "why wouldn't you be frustrated" was how NBC's Kelly O'Donnell put it -- Bush eventually acknowledged: "Sometimes I'm frustrated."

Then he added: "And our question is: Do we have the capacity and the desire to spread peace by confronting these terrorists and supporting those who want to live in liberty? That's the question. And my answer to that question is: We must. We owe it to future generations to do so."

Towel-Snapping

"These aren't joyous times," Bush said, reflecting on the situation in Iraq. "These are challenging times. And they're difficult times. And they're straining the -- the psyche of our country. I understand that."

And yet Bush found plenty of time to poke fun at members of the press corps.

The prime object of his teasing was seersucker-clad Cox News Service reporter Ken Herman, who has covered Bush since they both worked in Texas.


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