Reporters at Bush News Conference Attack Hypothetical Troop Level Plan
During a presidential news conference on Wednesday, members of the media made it very clear to President Bush that they do not support increasing troop levels in Iraq. Although no such plan has been officially announced, several print and television reporters appeared to be launching a preemptive strike against the idea and in support of a quick withdrawal. During the hour long question and answer session, a "New York Times" reporter made comparisons to Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam. CBS correspondent Jim Axelrod asked how much longer the President will continue to defy the polls, and NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell tried to trap Bush into a game of criticizing Donald Rumsfeld. Early in the news conference, Reuters reporter Caren Bohan commenced the media attack on any plan that would increase troop strength in Iraq:
Caren Bohan: "If you conclude that a surge in troop levels in Iraq is needed, would you overrule your military commanders if they felt it was not a good idea?"
Bush: "That’s a dangerous hypothetical question. I am not condemning you, you are allowed to ask what you want. Let, let me wait and gather all the recommendations from Bob Gates, from our military, from diplomats on the ground. I’m interested in the Iraqis point of view, and then I will report back to you as to whether or not I support a surge or not. Nice try."
NBC reporter Kelly O’Donnell continued this line of questioning, offering Bush a simplistic either/or query about Donald Rumsfeld:
Kelly O’Donnell: "Your former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld advocated for a lighter, more agile military force. Have you now concluded that that approach was wrong?"
Bush: "No, I, I strongly support a lighter, agile army that can move quickly to meet the threats of the 21st century. I also supported his forced posture review and recommendations to move forces out of previous bases that, you know, they were there for the– for the Soviet threat, for example in Europe. He, he’s, he’s has introduced some substantive changes to, uh, to uh, to the Pentagon and I support him strongly. However, that does not necessarily preclude increasing in strength for the Army and Marines."
CBS correspondent Jim Axelrod wondered just how long Bush planned on defying polls and "the will of the American people":
Jim Axelrod: "In the latest CBS News poll, 50 percent of Americans say they favor a beginning of an end to U.S. military involvement in Iraq. 43 percent said keep fighting, but change tactics. By this, and many other measures, there is no clear mandate to continue being in Iraq in a military form. I guess my question is, are you still willing to follow a path that seems to be in opposition to the will of the American people?"
Bush: "I am willing to follow a path that leads to victory. And that is exactly why we are conducting the review we are. Victory in Iraq is achievable, it hadn’t happened nearly as quickly as I hoped it would’ve. I know it’s the fact that there are still unspeakable sectarian violence in Iraq, I know that’s troubling to the American people. But, I also don’t believe most Americans want us to just get out now. A lot of Americans understand the consequences of retreat. Retreat would embolden radicals. It would hurt the credibility of the United States."
Though Axelrod didn’t say this, he could have easily added "the desire of the media" to his list of groups that Bush is defying.
Finally, "New York Times" journalist Sheryl Stolberg offered the Commander-in-Chief one of the more loaded questions:
Sheryl Stolberg: "Mr. President, Lyndon Johnson famously didn’t sleep during the Vietnam war, questioning his own decisions. You have always seemed very confident of your decisions, but I can’t help but wonder if this has been a time of painful realization for you as you yourself have acknowledged that some of the policies you hoped would succeed have not. And I wonder if you could talk to us about that? Has it been a painful time?"
On December 18, the MRC’s Megan McCormack noted a report by ABC News reporter Dan Harris. He claimed that any increase in troops "could be a very unpopular policy." If Thursday’s news conference is any indicator, Americans should expect the media to continue framing this hypothetical policy in a negative tone.