Editor’s Note: This article was featured by National Review Online on April 14. >>>See it here.<<<
Two images stand out from the President George W. Bush’s news conference on April 13: He was resolute and he was real.
RESOLUTE: In the hour-long session that included a 17-minute-long opening statement and questions from 15 different reporters, the president stayed remarkably on message. He was in every sense the commander in chief. He asserted that “now is the time and Iraq is the place” and reiterated over and over again that the United States would not waver in its resolve and that “failure is unthinkable.”
“The nation,” said the president, “was not on a war footing on 9/11, but the enemy was at war with us.” We had no alternative, he asserted, but to go on the offensive and stay on the offensive. The president acknowledged that the United States has experienced “tough weeks” recently – an oblique reference to the 80 deaths this month in Iraq. At the same time, he clearly and unequivocally denied that the violence was an “uprising.” Instead, he blamed extremists: “None of these actions are the work of a religion; all are the work of a fanatical political ideology.” He specifically blamed three groups: Baathist remnants, Islamic militants, and terrorists from Iran. These enemies want to shake our will and make us leave Iraq. America is a “liberating power,” he said, and “America’s word, once given, can be relied upon.”
The president made it clear that America has an “historic opportunity to change the world” and to “bring freedom” because “freedom is the deepest need of the human soul.” “Freedom,” claimed Bush “is the Almighty’s gift to the world.” In an emotional declaration, Bush said, “I believe strongly in the power of freedom.” Further, he said, “America will stay the course in Iraq and complete the job; what we are doing is noble service in the cause of peace.”
Finally, Bush fervently stated, “When I say something, I mean it. That’s important for the peace of the world.” This statement, too, seemed to be an oblique reference to his opponent for reelection, Senator John Kerry, who has famously flip-flopped on issues.
REAL: President Bush assured the loved ones of those who paid the ultimate price that American forces “will finish the work of the fallen.” While he expressed “anguish” over those “fine American heroes” whose sacrifice assured freedom for us all, he promised that we would “never allow our youngsters to die in vain.” He did not apologize for 9/11, but he did say that he is “sick when I think about the death that took place that day.” He made it clear, however, that “the person responsible was Osama bin Laden.” Actions after 9/11 were necessary, according to Bush, because “after 9/11, the world changed for me, for everyone, for the whole country.”
The president laid out his plan meticulously and, equally important, stated his moral case persuasively and repeatedly. He expressed confidence that the America people “understand the stakes” and declared that he would not let concern about the outcome of the Fall election deter him for his cause: “I don’t plan on losing my job. I plan on telling the American people that I’ve got a plan to win the war on terror and I believe they’ll stay with me.”
The president’s demeanor and determination was reassuring. His manner clearly indicated that he is a leader. His remarks did not seem canned; nor did he seem to be a phony spinning out what the public wanted to hear. He came across as strong, resolute and real. He was emphatic and clear. “I will stay the course” – regardless of polls or public opposition.
The president spoke eloquently about freedom and movingly about those who fell on the battlefields. The intensity of his commitment was evident; equally apparent was his “anguish” over the human cost of the war. Here is a sample:
I feel strongly about what we’re doing. I feel strongly that the course this administration has taken will make America more secure and the world more free, and, therefore, the world more peaceful. It’s a conviction that’s deep in my soul. And I will say it as best as I possibly can to the American people.
I look forward to the debate and the campaign. I look forward to helping – for the American people to hear, what is a proper use of American power; do we have an obligation to lead, or should we shirk responsibility. That’s how I view this debate. And I look forward to making it, Don. I’ll do it the best I possibly can. I’ll give it the best shot. I’ll speak as plainly as I can.
One thing is for certain, though, about me – and the world has learned this – when I say something, I mean it. And the credibility of the United States is incredibly important for keeping world peace and freedom.
I don’t think the president will lose his job; nor will he lose the war on terror. Under his leadership, American troops will, indeed, leave a legacy of peace for future generations.
– Janice Shaw Crouse was a presidential speechwriter in the first Bush administration.