Flip-flops

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esterday, I thought I would witness a train wreck of a debate. I was wrong. I saw a president who was single-minded in his message: I am resolute, Kerry sends mixed messages. He seemed so focus on this that he sometimes did not answer questions. He simply made sure that he could use his two minutes to convey what he wanted to. This was obvious early on.

For the second question of the debate, Jim Lehrer–obviously with Vice-President Cheney’s ridiculous statement in mind–asked if Kerry were elected, would ther be another 9/11 like attack in the US, Bush side-stepped the issue.

No, I don’t believe it’s going to happen. I believe I’m going to win, because the American people know I know how to lead. I’ve shown the American people I know how to lead.

That is, the US will not be attacked because he would continue to be president. He didn’t field the question, prefering to avoid an answer that might either give credence to Kerry and contradict Cheney or sound as idiotic as Cheney did when he said that if Kerry were elected we would be attacked by terrorists. Some might say this was deft. Others might call it was gutless.

But he did manage to convey that he thinks he know “how to lead.”

Later, Bush avoided another point by going in a completely different direction to get his other message across.

BUSH: My opponent just said something amazing. He said Osama bin Laden uses the invasion of Iraq as an excuse to spread hatred for America. Osama bin Laden isn’t going to determine how we defend ourselves. Osama bin Laden doesn’t get to decide. The American people decide. I decided the right action was in Iraq. My opponent calls it a mistake. It wasn’t a mistake. He said I misled on Iraq. I don’t think he was misleading when he called Iraq a grave threat in the fall of 2002. I don’t think he was misleading when he said that it was right to disarm Iraq in the spring of 2003. I don’t think he misled you when he said that, you know, anyone who doubted whether the world was better off without Saddam Hussein in power didn’t have the judgment to be president. I don’t think he was misleading. I think what is misleading is to say you can lead and succeed in Iraq if you keep changing your positions on this war. And he has.

Bush begins by stating that Kerry said Osama uses the Iraq invasion to spread hatred against America. But Bush doesn’t address this directly. At least not that I can tell. Instead of providing proof to the contrary, he goes into a tirade about how Osama does not determine “how we defend ourselves.” I must admit that I was watching the TV trying to figure out what he was tyring to say. What does “Osama spreading hatred” have to do with “how we defend ourselves”? I thought he was avoiding the issue because even people like George Will–a staunch conservative–believes that the Iraq situation is increasing the number of terrorists in the world. (Newsweek, 9/27/2004) But it soon became clear that Bush was actually trying to steer the conversation toward his message: Kerry sends mixed messages, Kerry flip-flops.

But he is wrong. Kerry may have changed his mind, but he gave what to me was a valid explanation:

KERRY: Well, you know, when I talked about the $87 billion, I made a mistake in how I talk about the war. But the president made a mistake in invading Iraq.

Which is worse?

I believe that when you know something’s going wrong, you make it right. That’s what I learned in Vietnam. When I came back from that war I saw that it was wrong. Some people don’t like the fact that I stood up to say no, but I did. And that’s what I did with that vote. And I’m going to lead those troops to victory.

Finally, a coherent response. Yeah, he made a mistake. But he is owning up to it. He is trying to address it. He doesn’t ignore it. Isn’t that part of what a leader is? Certainly, being wrong too often could be a problem, but having a problem and not admitting it is worse. I was going through my formative years during the Vietnam War. I remember Presidents Johnson and Nixon strenuously insisting that we were right to go to Vietnam, they we had to be resolute and stay the course. We all know how the Vietnam War ended, now don’t we. Do you think that being firm and resolute is the only quality a president should have?

Speaking of flip-flops: Bush seemed to mispeak at one point, but in reality it might have been a reflection of his true intentions.

LEHRER: Does the Iraq experience make it more likely or less likely that you would take the United States into another pre-emptive military action?

BUSH: I would hope I never have to. I understand how hard it is to commit troops. Never wanted to commit troops. When I was running — when we had the debate in 2000, never dreamt I’d be doing that. But the enemy attacked us, Jim, and I have a solemn duty to protect the American people, to do everything I can to protect us.

What? Bush didn’t want to commit troops to Iraq, but he couldn’t help it because “the enemy attacked us”? Did Iraq attack us? Wasn’t it Al Qaeda? Did he just mispeak? Or did he let out a Freudian slip. I’ve always suspected that he simply wanted to invade Iraq, to accomplish something greater than his father. This might explain the Bush administration’s constantly shifting position on why we invaded Iraq.

On July 15, 2003, Vice President Cheney repeatedly cited an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate that warned Saddam Hussein was seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Those charged with the security of this nation could not read such an assessment and pretend that it did not exist. Ignoring such information, or trying to wish it away, would be irresponsible in the extreme. And our President did not ignore that information–he faced it. He sought to eliminate the threat by peaceful, diplomatic means and, when all else failed, he acted forcefully to remove the danger. Listen to segment.

Okay, I was willing to believe Bush. Saddam did kill Kurds with WMD, so this intelligence is not so far fetched. But as it became increasingly clear that there are no WMDs in Iraq, the administrations position began to shift. It wasn’t the presence of WMDs but the possibility of creating WMDs that justified our invasion of Iraq. Then in July 2004, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence produced a report that said “intelligence used to justify the conflict was wrong, flawed or exaggerated in the lead-up to the conflict.” Bush defended the invasion by saying,

Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq,” he said during a visit to Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “We removed a declared enemy of America who had the capability of producing weapons of mass murder and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them. In the world after September 11th, that was a risk we could not afford to take.

Okay, first we went to war to get rid of WMDs, then we went to get rid of the possibility of WMDs, and finally went just to get rid of a “declared enemy of America.” If Bush were criticizing himself, wouldnt he call this a flip-flop as well? Or is this shift–like Kerry’s–an admission that he realized his mistake and is doing something about it? No, wait, he hasn’t admitted that it was a mistake. He’s resolute. He’s staying the course. He’s leading us right into another Vietnam.

Don’t forget to vote on November 2.

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