By Eugene Robinson
WASHINGTON—Is George W. Bush even trying to make sense anymore?
On Wednesday, speaking to the Associated General Contractors of America, Bush gave himself a new nickname. Responding to a question from the audience, he asked rhetorically whether “the Congress or the commanders” should decide how many U.S. troops are needed in Iraq.
“And as you know,” he went on, “my position is clear—I’m the Commander Guy.”
That leaves me somewhat confused. If he’s now the Commander Guy, does that mean I have to stop calling him the Decider? Or does he spend some days deciding and other days commanding?
Maybe there were further clues to the president’s decision-making style in the rambling talk he gave a couple of weeks ago at Tippecanoe High School in Tipp City, Ohio. He recalled that just before his inauguration in 2001, the head usher at the White House called and asked what color rug he wanted in the Oval Office. He delegated the task of designing a new presidential rug to his wife, Laura.
“But I said, I want it to say something—the president has got to be a strategic thinker and I said to her, make sure the rug says ‘optimistic person comes to work.’ Because you can’t make decisions unless you’re optimistic that the decisions you make will lead to a better tomorrow.” The result, he said, is “this fantastic rug that looks like the sun. And it just sets the tone for the Oval Office.”
While discussing the situation in Iraq, Bush told the Tipp City audience that “I happen to think there will be an additional dividend when we succeed—remember the rug?”
Does that make the rug an Assistant Decider? Will the rug get a Medal of Freedom, just like George Tenet?
That Ohio appearance generated so many new Bushisms that it’s hard to know where to begin. Asked about the polls showing the unpopularity of the war and his own low approval rating, Bush said, “I’ve been in politics long enough to know that polls just go poof at times.” Asked about immigration, Bush said, “There are jobs Americans aren’t doing. ... If you’ve got a chicken factory, a chicken-plucking factory, or whatever you call them, you know what I’m talking about.”
Um, sure, Mr. President, we follow you. All the way to the chicken factory.
Those in the crowd at Tipp City also learned from the president that Iraq is definitely not another Vietnam. But the president added, “There are some similarities, of course—death is terrible.”
OK, I know that most of the president’s off-the-wall locutions are dangerous only to the English language. But to the extent that carelessness of speech reflects carelessness of mind, much more is at stake. The Commander Guy’s rationale for sending more U.S. troops to fight and die in Iraq is as elusive as his reason for starting the war in the first place. He says his goal is victory, but he can’t explain coherently what victory would look like, much less how to get there.
In Tipp City, just before his reminder about the Oval Office rug, Bush said success in Iraq would be defined as “a country that is stable enough for the government to work, that can defend itself and serve as an ally in this war on terror, that won’t be a safe haven, that will deny the extremists and the radicals.”
But that doesn’t necessarily mean an end to bloody suicide bombings, he added. “Think about that: If our definition is no more suiciders, you’ve just basically said to the suiciders, go ahead.”
Speaking to the contractors’ group on Wednesday, the president elaborated: “Either we’ll succeed or we won’t succeed. And the definition of success as I described is sectarian violence down. Success is not, no violence. There are parts of our own country that have got a certain level of violence to it. But success is a level of violence where the people feel comfortable about living their daily lives. And that’s what we’re trying to achieve.”
What is the man talking about? What “parts of our own country” experience violence even remotely comparable to that in Iraq? Is he serious?
President Bush now says that even after “success” in Iraq—after more American and Iraqi deaths—there will still be sectarian violence and there will still be suicide bombers killing innocent civilians. Which is the situation right now. So why stay in Iraq even one more day, except to validate the unwise decisions of our ineloquent Commander Guy?
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at symbol)washpost.com.
© 2007, Washington Post Writers Group