I just finished watching Tim Russert’s interview with President Bush. Overall, it was largely uneventful, but the president acquitted himself well enough. He came across as thoughtful and considered. And, while he was almost certainly prepared for hours by staff members, he didn’t appear to be giving the memorized speeches that one is accustomed to from politicians on these programs. Bush actually seemed to pause and consider his answers. The only real “talking point” that I detected was the constant use of the term “madman” to describe Saddam Hussein.

The other striking thing was that Bush seemed to acknowledge the real possibility that WMD won’t be found:

[F]irst of all, I expected to find the weapons. Sitting behind this desk making a very difficult decision of war and peace, and I based my decision on the best intelligence possible, intelligence that had been gathered over the years, intelligence that not only our analysts thought was valid but analysts from other countries thought were valid.

And I made a decision based upon that intelligence in the context of the war against terror. In other words, we were attacked, and therefore every threat had to be reanalyzed. Every threat had to be looked at. Every potential harm to America had to be judged in the context of this war on terror.

And I made the decision, obviously, to take our case to the international community in the hopes that we could do this achieve a disarmament of Saddam Hussein peacefully. In other words, we looked at the intelligence. And we remembered the fact that he had used weapons, which meant he had weapons. We knew the fact that he was paying for suicide bombers. We knew the fact he was funding terrorist groups. In other words, he was a dangerous man. And that was the intelligence I was using prior to the run up to this war.


And so we — I expected there to be stockpiles of weapons. But David Kay has found the capacity to produce weapons. And when David Kay goes in and says we haven’t found stockpiles yet, and there’s theories as to where the weapons went. They could have been destroyed during the war. Saddam and his henchmen could have destroyed them as we entered into Iraq. They could be hidden. They could have been transported to another country, and we’ll find out.

MSNBC has the full transcipt.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kate says:

    Thanks for the link. I’ve only heard clips on Canadian radio, and of course, there is more “news announcer” analysis than actual quote time. But from what little I heard, he sounded sincere, which doesn’t come across in written transcripts, and is probably more important than the actual words when it comes to forming long lasting impressions.

  2. Mike in Oregon says:

    Face it. Bush is never going to be as articulate as Clinton. But at the same time, Clinton in eight years never could muster as much decisiveness as Bush in less than four. In times like this, I’ll opt for decisiveness rather than biting a pouty lip and pandering to the polls. I thought Bush acquitted himself pretty well.

  3. senator girth says:

    Dubya’s performance was dismal; his answers on Iraq were, as usual, comically simplistic. And his response about getting out of military duty early (“I was going to Harvard Business School”) will be prime fodder for Demo attackes. I thought W. would walk all over the Dems in November, but I’m starting to think that he’s in big trouble.

    W. has been attemping to exmplain and justify the war in Iraq for a year and a half. His answers haven’t changed yet the questions continue. Regardless of whether you support Bush or not, this fact alone should make the White House pause.

  4. Bush is using the John Edwards “be nice” stragegy on John Kerry while Kerry is using the Howard Dean “accuse and demean” strategy on Bush.

    How do you think Bush’s “I’m decisive and optimistic” message will compare with Kerry’s “we should have waited, I would have asked the French and the economy’s in trouble” complaint? Bush promises to stimulate the economy by getting taxes as low as possible while controlling spending while Kerry says he will tax the rich to eliminate the deficit and doesn’t explain how he will stimulate the economy by raising taxes.

    Bush’s interview showed he will put his determination to win the war on terrorism and his middle American personality up against Kerry’s strong anti-war, anti-military view of the world and his sometimes shrill, eastern distain for others.

    Looks like a real red states vs. blue states contest that will produce the largest presidential election turnout in history. Nobody can say you can’t tell Republicans from Democrats.

    Kerry is calling Bush “extreme,” but Bush came across on Meet the Press as reasonable, moderate and well intentioned, while Kerry sounds “extreme” in his stump speeches. I question whether Kerry will wear well during the long campaign. We know that for most Americans, Bush is easy to listen to even when we don’t like what he has to say or what he wants to do.

    At this point, it appears Kerry will be a much better candidate than Al Gore and that Bush will be a much stronger candidate after what he’s gone through during the first 3.5 years of his presidency.

    This isn’t to say the Bush campaign won’t attack Kerry. I can see commercials showing Kerry morphing into Teddy now. Or, JFK to Teddy to JFK. Look for the line: “America needs a strong, decisive war president, not a president who would accept the last resort, submission to terrorists.”

  5. terrye says:

    I thought the president did pretty well. I think the Viet Nam stuff is out of line and ridiculous. I was an anti war demonstrator and I know just how it was back then and considering the fact that Kerry went to war, fought and then came back and called Americans war criminals while thousands of men where still in country this might be a subject he wants to avoid. I think Kerry is [and always has been] a political oppurtunist and I am a Democrat.

    As for Bush’s answers on Iraq being simple, they were not half as simple as is the notion that when Democrats said Hussein had wmd they were honest and when Republicans said it they were lying to help Halliburton make money.

  6. Greyhawk says:

    “W. has been attemping to exmplain and justify the war in Iraq for a year and a half. His answers haven’t changed yet the questions continue.”

    Really? You’d prefer someone who gives different answers every time?

  7. Anonymous says:

    “thoughtful and considered”? I have to disagree….

    I realize that Bush has set such appalingly low expectations for any unscripted interviews that merely engaging Russert for an hour may cause an uptick in his approval rating….but getting to the substance.

    The new Karl Rove mantra which includes referencesto “madman” and “dangerous man in a dangerous place of the world” do not suffice for a justification for war. Just like Condi Rice on the Today show, a few days earlier, Bush sounded like a pull-string toy with limited vocabulary.

    I agree that the issue of military service is overblown…in fact, I’ve always thought of it as anachronistic and an inappropriate litmus test for any candidate, despite the popular belief that somehow 9/11 changed everything.

    Did it strike anyone as particularly ironic that Bush was essentially cherry-picking David Kay’s report to make the case that Hussein was a grave and gathering danger? If this is the same kind of self-serving logic that was applied to CIA intelligence, I think Bush inadvertently answered the most important question on everyone’s mind.

  8. James Joyner says:

    Actually, I think Kay has gone out of his way to make the point that Bush was making–and has been largely ignored by a press wanting to emphasize the “no WMD” part of the statement.

  9. lj says:

    I love it how the dems seem to tie themselves to a particular argument so early. I say if they want to run on “no wmd” and “vietnam service” then let them.

    1. The verdict is still out on Iraq and still possible that they may be found. Even if they aren’t, every sensible person knows that whether a war of choice or necessity, the president has discretionary power to determine when our national security is in danger. Not too long ago, 9-11 had people calling for a war. As I recall, Bush waited quite a while. I remember thinking, “when are we going to bomb somebody?”

    2. I also look forward to the debate on vietnam. What was Kerry doing while Bush was serving in the guard? He was protesting with Jane fonda, throwing someone else’s medals at the capitol, and lying to meet the press and to the government about war atrocities.
    I say let them tie themselves to this ship and watch them go down with it.