Bush Challenged on Iraq

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, April 19, 2007; 12:34 PM

Something we're not allowed to see in public happened yesterday in the White House's Cabinet Room: President Bush was challenged and got angry.

There were no pyrotechnics, but according to multiple reports Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid compared Iraq to Vietnam at one point in a closed door meeting with Bush. Specifically, Reid suggested that Bush was pursuing a lost cause at the cost of American troops in order to protect his legacy.

Bush's reaction: He was "visibly angered" says the New York Times; he "bristled" according to the Associated Press. And he "denied this forcefully, after which Mr. Reid touched his arm in a gesture of friendliness," write the Wall Street Journal.

Could this have been the first time Bush has come face to face with someone willing to confront him so bluntly on the signature issue of his presidency?

We don't know. Bush is well known for living inside a protective bubble where accommodating staffers keep opposing views -- and those who hold them -- at bay.

It's certainly never happened where the public can see -- and judge the president's reaction for itself.

The Meeting

Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg write in the New York Times: "After weeks of acrimonious sparring over financing the next phase of the war, President Bush and Congressional leaders softened their tone on Wednesday but failed to resolve their differences over a timeline for removing most American combat troops from Iraq next year. . . .

"The discussions took place on one of the deadliest days of the year in Baghdad, where at least 171 people were killed in bombings. Democrats said the violence underscored the urgency of finding a new direction in Iraq, one that did not place American troops in the middle of a civil war.

"At the beginning of the meeting, Mr. Bush declared, 'People have strong opinions around the table and I'm looking forward to listening to them.' And for the next hour, according to participants and aides in the room, a frank conversation unfolded between the president and the 10 legislative leaders seated around the table in the Cabinet Room. . . .

"Members of the group, which included four senators and six representatives, all spoke, including Mr. Reid, who compared the Iraq war to the Vietnam War and suggested to Mr. Bush that he should not continue with the war simply to protect his legacy. The president was visibly angered by the comment, according to aides, but he did not respond directly. . . .

"During the meeting, Mr. Bush was the only administration official who spoke, though he was accompanied by Vice President Dick Cheney, the White House chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, the national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, and others."

David Espo writes for the Associated Press: "Several officials said the session was polite. But they said it turned pointed when Reid recounted a conversation with generals who likened Iraq to Vietnam and described it as a war in which the president refused to change course despite knowing victory was impossible. Bush bristled at the comparison, according to several officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private. One quoted him as saying, 'I reject' the comparison.

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