Most Ridiculous Moment?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, October 27, 2006; 1:02 PM

It may go down as one of the most ridiculous -- and ridiculed -- utterances of the Bush presidency.

In an interview with ABC News broadcast on Sunday, President Bush gamely suggested that "we've never been 'stay the course'" when it comes to Iraq.

With mid-term elections just around the bend -- and with public opinion starkly and unhappily focused on Iraq -- it's understandable that Bush might want to rewrite history. But his attempt failed miserably.

Less than a week later, there are 96 and counting entries on You Tube making a lie of his assertion, trumpeting videotaped examples of Bush using that particular phrase to describe his Iraq strategy -- over and over again.

In contrast to press secretary Tony Snow's insistence on Tuesday that his office could only find eight times when Bush had used the phrase, the official compilation of presidential documents contains 52 such public utterances by the president since 2003. Googling bloggers seemingly turn up more every day.

And in an off-camera interview with friendly conservative journalists on Wednesday, Bush himself actually embraced the term again.

"This stuff about 'stay the course' -- stay the course means, we're going to win," he said.

But more significantly, in spite of a furious public-relations campaign by the White House aimed at muddying the issue, at week's end there is simply no doubt that "stay the course" is a deadly accurate description of Bush's strategy in Iraq.

The fundamental issue is whether American troops should continue what looks to many to be a hopeless fight -- or whether they should start coming home. And on that central point, Bush has not wavered one bit.

Yes, as the White House has been at great pains to point out lately, the day-to-day military tactics sometimes change. But as Bush himself has long been at great pains to point out, the White House has no place in setting those military tactics.

Bush reiterated that latter point in the Wednesday interview: "Remember the pictures in the Oval Office, with them sitting over the maps, picking out the targets in Vietnam? That's not happening in this war. The Commander-in-Chief, through the Secretary of Defense, must empower the military people on the ground, and the embassy, to . . . implement the strategy. And if tactics need to change, change them. Just keep us posted. And that's what's happening."

When it comes to strategy, the message from the White House has been utterly constant since the beginning of the occupation -- regardless of the mounting evidence that it is not working. And that message has been "stay the course."


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