Bush Still Draws a Blank

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, November 12, 2008; 1:16 PM

Nearing the bitter end of eight ruinous years in office, President Bush still won't acknowledge a single substantive thing he did wrong. Asked if he had any regrets in a CNN interview yesterday, Bush copped to a few public-relations gaffes many years ago. His tone, however, was anything but apologetic. In fact, he seemed quite pleased with himself.

It's all very reminiscent of that April 2004 press conference, when Bush was famously flummoxed when asked to describe his biggest post-9/11 mistake -- and what lessons he had learned from it. Bush's response at the time solidified his reputation as someone who engaged in little or no self-reflection. Four and a half momentous years later, does he think nothing went wrong? Or does he simply think it wasn't his fault?

Here's the transcript of his interview yesterday with CNN's Heidi Collins. The video shows Bush sounding like a schoolchild forced to apologize for something he doesn't feel the least bit sorry about. Note his exaggerated pronunciation of the two words I've put in italics.

Collins: "I imagine you probably have a moment in your presidency that you are most proud of, and a moment I'm sure you most regret."

Bush: "I regret saying some things I shouldn't have said."

Collins: "Like?"

Bush: "Like 'dead or alive,' or 'bring 'em on.' And, by the way, my wife reminded me as president of the United States, you better be careful what you say. I was trying to convey a message. I could have conveyed it more artfully.

"Being on this ship reminds me of when I went to the USS Abraham Lincoln and they had a sign that said 'Mission Accomplished.' I regret that sign was there. It was a sign aimed at the sailors on the ship, but it conveyed a broader knowledge. To some it said, well, Bush thinks the war in Iraq is over, when I didn't think that. But nonetheless, it conveyed the wrong message. So, there are things I've regretted."

As it happens, all three of these incidents were indicative of serious failings way beyond an unfortunate turn of phrase or misplaced banner. His "dead or alive" comment was not an accident, it was a perfect expression of the cowboy thinking that got us into the Iraq war in the first place. "Bring 'em on" remains shocking not because it was inartful, but because it exemplified an insufficiently serious concern about putting other people's lives at risk. And "Mission Accomplished" took on such incredible resonance at least in part because it called attention to Bush's failure to plan for what turned out to be the real war.

For the record, Bush has expressed regrets about his cowboy rhetoric before, starting back in January 2005, again in May 2006, and most recently in a June interview with the Times of London. Phrases such as "bring them on" or "dead or alive", he told the Times, "indicated to people that I was, you know, not a man of peace."

Bush hadn't previously voiced any regrets about the "Mission Accomplished" banner, but Karl Rove did, as early as April 2004.

And as I've noted in the past, Bush has never really apologized for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, or even expressed regret about not taking more decisive action to prevent the genocide in Darfur.

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