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Bush Goofing Around During Presidential Visit
NBC Blog
Kelly O'Donnell
Sept. 13, 2005

The White House beat can on many days be an exercise in multi-tasking. So many subject areas intersect here... not only topics, but tone... from the deeply serious to the light-hearted.

Today's East Room event with President Bush and Iraqi President Talibani makes the point. Both leaders spoke with a certain gravitas about the "new democracy" in Iraq and the sacrifices made by U.S. servicemen and women... the kind of remarks that sometime wind up in history books.

But on another level, there was a playfulness in the room. The President will from time to time wink at someone in the gallery (it's hard to tell to whom that wink is intended) while a foreign leader is speaking. He did so today. Mr. Bush also injects humor in the regal setting. Today, after an Iraqi journalist asked President Talibani, who had just spoken at length in good English, a question in Arabic, President Bush kidded his guest saying "You might want to try it in English." A round of laughter followed and then to the President's surprise, Mr. Talibani did not follow that advice and launched into Arabic. With almost a comic's sense of timing, President Bush quietly said "oops" and looked a bit sheepish. After Talibani's extended answer, that seemed even longer because no translation service was provided, President Bush offered up "I'm not sure if I agree or not," cueing still more laughter. Off to the side, two members of the Iraqi delegation were whispering Arabic to English translation into the ears of Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Often when a foreign visitor does not speak or is not fully comfortable with English, headphones are passed out with a simultaneous translation. But not today.

More serious questions and answers followed and then another surprise: Kurdish. A journalist asked a question in Kurdish, and almost apologetically, the Iraqi president turned to Mr. Bush seeking permission to respond in Kurdish. Mr. Bush readily agreed, giving the president his final punch line. When the answer very few in the room could understand was complete, Mr. Bush said, "On that cheery note, the press conference is over."

The men shook hands and smiled but still one more unexpected moment followed. As the leaders were heading out, backs to the assembled journalists, a veteran correspondent gingerly shouted "Did you cut the budget for translators?" President Bush typically rebuffs any shouted question but today that elicited a broad smile and a turned head as if to say "good one."

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I'd expect something like this from a high school student, but not our president. Someone please tell him to act like a man--it's embarrassing. I don't see leadership do you?