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Bush on Phantom WMD: "What's The Difference?"
(from Liberal Oasis--posted Dec. 17 1 AM ET)
A fair amount of it was the typical softball questions we have come to expect.
But for about five minutes, Sawyer pressed Dubya on the question of the Phantom WMD harder than anyone has, perhaps harder than anyone has pressed him on anything since 9/11.
And in response, Dubya was defensive and evasive, clinging tightly to his talking points.
Judging from the wire reports of the interview, it doesn’t look like anyone in the mainstream media is going to pick up on the fact that when faced with such questions, Bush has no good direct response.
That's not surprising. In both those cases, Bush said something new, hence it is “news” by traditional standards.
Evading questions with old talking points doesn’t meet that standard.
(UPDATE Dec. 17 2 PM ET -- A late night AP writeup, that was mostly about the death penalty remark, did also touch upon Dubya's WMD remarks.)
Since the full transcript of the interview does not seem to be available on the internet anywhere, below is an extended excerpt (with a few helpful observations in parentheses) of the WMD portion of the interview.
This is the transcript of what the ABC audience saw. The interview appeared to be edited, and video clips and graphics were interspersed throughout.
It’s long, but worth reading. And more commentary to follow.
SAWYER: 50 percent of the American people have said that they think the Administration exaggerated the evidence going into the war with Iraq -- weapons of mass destruction, connection to terrorism.
Are the American people wrong? Misguided?
BUSH: No, the intelligence I operated on was good sound intelligence, the same intelligence that my predecessor operated on.
The – there is no doubt, uh, that Saddam Hussein was a threat. Uh, the – otherwise, the United Nations, by the way, wouldn’t have passed, y’know, resolution after resolution after resolution demanding that he disarm.
I first went to the United Nations, September the 12th 2002, and said:
“You’ve given this man resolution after resolution after resolution. He’s ignoring them. You step up, and see that he honor those resolutions. Otherwise you become a feckless debating society.”
And so for the sake of peace, and for the sake of freedom of the Iraqi people, and for the sake of security of the country, and for the sake of the credibility of international institutions, a group of us moved.
And the world is better for it.
(Bush shows look of self-satisfaction)
SAWYER: When you take a look back --
(Video clip of Dick Cheney saying, “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons -- ”)
SAWYER: -- Vice President Cheney said there is no doubt Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. Not programs, not intent.
(Shot of Bush shifting in chair, looking a bit annoyed.)
SAWYER: There is no doubt he has weapons of mass destruction.
Secretary Powell --
(Video clip of Powell at UN saying, “Iraq today has a stockpile -- ”)
SAWYER: -- said a hundred to five hundred tons of chemical weapons.
And now the inspectors say that there’s no evidence of these weapons existing right now.
(Video clip of Bush at the State of the Union address saying, “significant quantities of uranium --”)
SAWYER: The yellowcake in Niger. George Tenet has said that shouldn’t have been in your speech.
(Graphic of Tenet and the quote “This was a mistake.” Cut to Bush cocking his head, still annoyed.)
SAWYER: Secretary Powell talked about mobile labs, again the intelligence, the inspectors have said they can’t confirm this, they can’t corroborate.
(Video of Bush at the SOTU again, saying, “suitable for nuclear weapons production -- ”)
SAWYER: “Nuclear” suggested that he was on the way on an active nuclear program.
(Bush’s right leg starts to bounce anxiously)
SAWYER: David Kay: “We have not discovered significant evidence of an active -- ”
BUSH: Yet. Yet.
SAWYER: Is it, “yet?”
BUSH: But what David Kay did discover was he had a weapons program. And had that knowledge --
BUSH: Let me finish for a second. No, it was more extensive than missiles.
Had that knowledge been, uh, examined by the United Nations, in other words, had David Kay’s report been placed in front of the United Nations, he, Saddam Hussein, would have been in breach of 1441, which meant it was a casus belli.
And, uh, look --
(Bush’s voice begins to rise)
BUSH: -- There’s no doubt that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous person. And there’s no doubt we had a body of evidence proving that.
And there is no doubt that the president must act, after 9/11, to make America a more secure country.
(Look of self-satisfaction returns.)
SAWYER: Um, again I’m just trying to ask -- and these are supporters, people who believed in the war --
SAWYER: -- who have asked the question.
BUSH: Well you can keep asking the question, and my answer is going to be the same. Saddam was a danger, and the world is better off because we got rid of him.
(Raised voice cracks a bit on “rid.” A pause, then Bush shoots Sawyer an exasperated look as if to say “Get it?”, though with a bit of a smile.)
SAWYER: But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction, as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still --
BUSH: So what’s the difference?
SAWYER: Well --
BUSH: The possibility that he could acquire weapons. If he were acquire weapons [sic], he would be the danger. That’s the -- that’s what I’m trying to explain to you.
A gathering threat, after 9/11, is a threat that needed to be dealt with.
And it was done after 12 long years of the world saying, “the man’s a danger.” And so, we got rid of him.
And there’s no doubt the world is a safer, freer place as a result of Saddam being gone.
SAWYER: But, but again some, some of the critics have said this, combined with the failure to establish proof of elaborate terrorism contacts, has indicated that there’s just not precision, at best, and misleading, at worst. [sic]
BUSH: Y’know, uh, look (shakes head). What (chuckle) what we based our evidence on was a very sound National Intelligence Estimate.
SAWYER: Nothing should have been more precise?
BUSH: I – I – I – I made my decision based upon enough intelligence to tell me that the country was threatened with Saddam Hussein in power.
SAWYER: What would it take to convince you he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction?
BUSH: Saddam Hussein was a threat. And the fact that he is gone means America is a safer country.
(Pause, as both smile.)
SAWYER: And if he doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction --
BUSH: You can keep asking the question. I’m telling ya, I made the right decision for America.
Because Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction, invaded Kuwait.
But the fact that he is not there, is uh, means America is a more secure country.
So what can we take away from this, practically speaking?
That Bush doesn’t have good enough talking points to withstand serious questioning on this issue.
Now, Karl Rove may be compelled to tinker with them as a result. But until there’s evidence of that, the issue should be treated as a vulnerability.
Granted, this issue isn’t going to be put to Bush directly very often in the near future, as he already exposes himself very little to serious questioning.
And he signaled to Sawyer he has a bit of a Rose Garden strategy in mind for the campaign:
…early in the process there’ll be all kinds of pressures to respond to this, or respond to that…
…and I just want to warn you, I’m going to do my job. I got a lot to do. As we say, the dance card is quite full these days.
But if the eventual nominee starts to push the issue -- say, in springtime advertisements -- Bush may yet find himself under uncomfortable pressure.
Surely, there are downsides in flogging issues of “the past”, as pundits will complain you’re not talking about Iraq’s future.
But getting under your opponent’s skin has its benefits, taking off some of that commander-in-chief sheen.
And if Diane Sawyer can do that, think of the possibilities.