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"Dedicated to exposing the lies and impeachable offenses of George W. Bush"

Crisis of Confidence
Newsweek/MSNBC
By Howard Fineman
Newsweek
Updated: 10:43 p.m. ET Jan. 10, 2007

Jan. 10, 2007 - George W. Bush spoke with all the confidence of a perp in a police lineup. 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. Not surprising since what he was doing in the White House library was announcing the escalation of an unpopular war.

The president may well be right that we cannot afford to leave or lose in Iraq . He makes profound sense when he observes that a collapse of Iraq would mean the rise of a giant version of the Taliban's Afghanistan—with a million times the oil in the ground.

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? 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: a stable, antiterrorist Iraq.

In his televised address about Iraq, the president used the book-lined backdrop of the library in the White House to evoke the midwar FDR. This was supposed to be the kind of matter-of-fact, detail-filled radio address that the Old Man gave each week through the course of the last Good War.

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.

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.

Forty years ago, another president from Texas escalated an unpopular war. A famous Washington columnist, James Reston, described Lyndon Johnson's leadership as "war by tantrum."

This Texas president doesn't operate through tantrums, and this wasn't a tantrum. This is an expression of grim determination, based on a moral vision, a worthy if perhaps unrealistic goal, and a fierce hatred of being branded a loser. I could tell you lots of stories about just how much Bush hates to lose, and always has.

The president's chances of success, such as they are, now rest with the reasonableness and details of his plan. Will it work? He 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.
© 2007 Newsweek, Inc.

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