Newsweek’s Fineman: ‘Bush Spoke With All The Confidence of a Perp in a Police Lineup’

January 11th, 2007 10:36 AM

Newsweek’s Howard Fineman didn’t wait long to file his disdain for President Bush’s speech to the nation about Iraq Wednesday night. In fact, according to the timestamp at, his “A Crisis of Confidence” article was posted at 7:43 PM Pacific Time, or a little over an hour after the president finished. I guess Howard was anxious to tell his readers that “George W. Bush spoke with all the confidence of a perp in a police lineup.”

The article, which read as if it had been written well before the speech was given, continued (emphasis mine throughout):

I first interviewed the guy in 1987 and began covering his political rise in 1993, and I have never seen him, in public or private, look less convincing, less sure of himself, less cocky. With his knitted brow and stricken features, he looked, well, scared.”

Scared? Really? I must have had the wrong station on. Alas, Fineman continued:

But if he was trying to assure the country that he had confidence in his own plan to prevent that collapse, well, a picture is worth a thousand words. And the words themselves weren't that assuring either. Does anyone in America or Iraq , or anywhere else in the world for that matter, really think that the Sunnis and Shia will make peace? Does anyone think that embedded American soldiers won't be in danger of being fragged by their own Iraqi brethren? Does anyone really think that Iran and Syria can be prevented from playing havoc in Iraq and the rest of the region by expressions of presidential will?

Hmmm. Some of Howard's questions make one wonder if anyone at Newsweek really thinks. Sadly, Fineman was just getting warmed up:

George Bush had the look of a man who knew he had made a royal hash of things in reaching for what most enlightened people would say was a noble goal.


Problem was, Bush had long since forfeited the political credibility that FDR was able to maintain through his presidency. Roosevelt made huge mistakes, and the rules of the times allowed him to hold back much information. But the public believed him in his role as a leader of the Western World. Luckily for Roosevelt, he was on the radio for the most part.

Is it possible, Howard, that the public believed FDR despite his huge mistakes because the press back then didn’t undermine him 24/7 the way you and your colleagues have this president for more than three years now? Regardless of the answer, Fineman continued:

Bush's political problem is not so much that he has lied to the American people—though he may well have done so—but that he seems for years to have been lying to himself.

What the voters saw on TV just now was a man struggling to come to grips with his own unwillingness to face facts. It's still a struggle. His acknowledgement of mistakes was oblique and not as brave as it sounded at first blush. Mistakes were made, and he said. "The responsibility rests with me," he said. What he meant to convey was that others had made the mistakes, but that he was stepped up to take the hit. Hoo-aw! He said that he had "consulted" congressional leaders of both parties before he came to a decision on sending more than 20,000 additional troops. He didn't really consult with members of Congress, and certainly not with Democrats, unless you consider Sen. Joe Lieberman a Democrat.

Fineman concluded:

The president's chances of success, such as they are, now rest with the reasonableness and details of his plan. Will it work? His says that his generals "report" that it will. Do the American people believe that it will?

I'm not sure that they are really listening, but if they were watching, they can't have been reassured by the man they saw in the basement of the White House.

Actually, Howard, given how quickly this piece was posted, and its contents, I’m not sure you were watching either.