- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 14, 2004

In his press conference Tuesday night, President Bush offered a robust defense of the U.S.-led campaign to bring freedom to the people of Iraq. As the president’s remarks (which aired live in the predawn hours in Iraq) were carefully watched by Iraqi supporters of democracy and backers of the terrorist insurgency as well, he affirmed his intention to forge ahead irrespective of politics. Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Bush made clear that we will not be chased out of Iraq and that Washington remains committed to June 30 as the date for transferring sovereignty to Iraqis.

The president, who understands very well that Americans are divided right now over the best strategy for achieving victory in Iraq, did not filibuster. Nor did he attempt to deliver some empty, feel-good speech, or play the gotcha game — coming up with some phony confession of incompetence. As a result, frustrated members of the press now say the president is just stubborn and suggest that his unwillingness to admit failure is evidence of a personality defect. But given the low regard in which the Fourth Estate is held by the American people, Mr. Bush shouldn’t worry too much.

Instead of playing the media’s game, he offered a sober-minded assessment of the challenges that lie ahead for the allied coalition. As the president made clear, there would be serious consequences if the United States failed to follow through on its promise to bring stability and self-government to Iraq. Mr. Bush did a solid job of explaining what is at stake in Iraq, pointing to the connection between the Iraqi insurgency and outside terrorist groups. For example, he noted the fact that radical Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has endorsed Hamas and Hezbollah. The terrorists responsible for the recent murders and kidnappings in Iraq, the president said, follow the same “ideology of murder” as those who killed 241 Marines in the October 1983 bombing in Beirut and carried out the August 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa.

Since the September 11 attacks, Mr. Bush observed: “for the first time, the civilized world has provided a concerted response to the ideology of terror, a series of powerful, effective blows. The terrorists have lost the shelter of the Taliban and the training camps in Afghanistan. They’ve lost safe havens in Pakistan. They lost an ally in Baghdad, and Libya has turned its back on terror. They’ve lost many leaders in an unrelenting international manhunt.”

Given the reality that Americans are polarized over the conduct of the war, Mr. Bush’s speech and subsequent performance at the press conference probably will not change many minds. Rather, they will solidify support among wavering backers of the president.

Mr. Bush added a new wrinkle to the art of holding presidential press conferences. He spoke for the first 17 minutes (viewers typically start to tune out after about eight to 10 minutes), giving him the ability to get his point across to the largest possible audience. It was also quite enjoyable for supporters of the president to watch the press being forced to cool its Gucci heels for nearly 20 minutes while waiting for the president to finish before being permitted to pose their contemptuous and largely pointless gotcha questions. A recent Gallup Poll disclosed that 65 percent of the public hold the mainline media in low regard. Their performance Tuesday night should knock a few more points off their credibility. We commend Mr. Bush for the fine job he did in taking his case to the American people.

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