The Importance of Good Intelligence
By A.D. Freudenheim  

15 February 2004

On Sunday, 8 February 2004, President Bush participated in an hour-long taped interview with Tim Russert, for the NBC show “Meet the Press.” It must be said – it must be said here since so few seem willing to say it elsewhere – that the President’s performance was execrable. On the basis of this stunning display of unintelligibility, Mr. Bush deserves not only to lose the election passively, but to be actively voted out of office for not being able to fulfill one of the position’s most crucial responsibilities: to articulate clearly a set of policies to his constituents, to explain his actions in terms that make sense, and to do so with the necessary facts behind him. For much of the hour, Russert asked questions about the war, questioning the President’s credibility, the quality of the information he received, and the surefooted way Mr. Bush made decisions – using information that was, it now seems clear, flawed at the very least. To say that the President was unable to respond effectively or defend himself is an understatement. Several noteworthy themes emerged from this interview.[1]

First of all, many of Mr. Bush’s answers were tautologies, in the vein of I did the right thing because I know I did the right thing, which means, as I have already said, that I did the right thing. These ridiculous, redundant answers are extremely disconcerting; perhaps the President believe that the only thing needed to prove he is right is his own word to that effect – but such responses most assuredly do not answer the questions asked of him. Equally troublesome, they amplify something else that Mr. Bush suggested: in his view, there is only one way to see the world – his. Read:

Well, the reason why we gave it time is because we didn’t want it to be hurried. [Referring to why the President’s new intelligence commission will not produce a final report until after the November 2004 election.
By the way, quoting a lot of their data — in other words, this is unaccounted for stockpiles that you thought he had because I don’t think America can stand by and hope for the best from a madman, and I believe it is essential — I believe it is essential — that when we see a threat, we deal with those threats before they become imminent. It’s too late if they become imminent. It’s too late in this new kind of war, and so that’s why I made the decision I made. [Trying to defend the intelligence that may or may not have accurately (or not) specified that Hussein was a threat.]
And the American people need to know they got a president who sees the world the way it is. [In the context of referring to himself as a “war president.”]

Beyond the tautological answers, Mr. Bush’s comments also gave the impression that he thought he was speaking to someone less intelligent than he is – and that the American people, never mind his interviewer, would not understand what he’s trying to say unless he proceeded very carefully with each statement. So carefully, in fact, that he made less sense than he might have if he’d simply answered Russert’s questions directly, as in these exchanges:

Russert: Will you testify before the commission?
President Bush: This commission? You know, testify? I mean, I’d be glad to visit with them. I’d be glad to share with them knowledge. I’d be glad to make recommendations, if they ask for some.

Did he actually say “I’d be glad to visit with them”? Yes, he did. Mr. Bush would also “be glad to make recommendations”? Very kind, but odd indeed, since that is the alleged job of the commission itself. Mr. Bush also said:

But David Kay did report to the American people that Saddam had the capacity to make weapons. Saddam Hussein was dangerous with weapons. Saddam Hussein was dangerous with the ability to make weapons. He was a dangerous man in the dangerous part of the world.

Indeed: a dangerous part of the world. And Mr. Bush, and his administration, knew what they were dealing with:

Russert: Mr. President, the Director of the CIA said that his briefings had qualifiers and caveats, but when you spoke to the country, you said “there is no doubt.” When Vice President Cheney spoke to the country, he said “there is no doubt.” Secretary Powell, “no doubt.” Secretary Rumsfeld, “no doubt, we know where the weapons are.” You said, quote, “The Iraqi regime is a threat of unique urgency.” “Saddam Hussein is a threat that we must deal with as quickly as possible.”
You gave the clear sense that this was an immediate threat that must be dealt with.
President Bush: I think, if I might remind you that in my language I called it a grave and gathering threat, but I don’t want to get into word contests. But what I do want to share with you is my sentiment at the time. There was no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a danger to America. No doubt.

Well, he thought he knew what he was dealing with:

Russert: The night you took the country to war, March 17th, you said this: “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”
President Bush: Right.
Russert: That apparently is not the case.
President Bush: Correct.

Interesting. It does seem that the President just acknowledged that the intelligence data was incorrect. This acknowledgment that the data was wrong is then repeated, a few minutes later:

President Bush: Let me take a step back for a second and — there is no such thing necessarily in a dictatorial regime of iron-clad absolutely solid evidence. The evidence I had was the best possible evidence that he had a weapon.
Russert: But it may have been wrong.
President Bush: Well, but what wasn’t wrong was the fact that he had the ability to make a weapon. That wasn’t right.

Right. Sorry, wrong. Wait. Let’s parse that last bit:

President Bush: Well, but what wasn’t wrong [i.e., what was right] was that he [Hussein] had the ability to make a weapon. That wasn’t right [i.e., that was wrong].

That is one hell of a statement. In other words: this dangerous man might have had weapons of mass destruction, except that we cannot now prove that he did. And we could not have proved this in advance, either, because there is no such thing as real proof from a regime like this. Therefore, we knew we had all the evidence, and it was correct, so therefore, we knew we were right, even though we couldn’t prove it. And even though the President now admits, as in that last sentence quoted, that we were wrong (i.e., “wasn’t right”).

The contradictions are many, and so are the absurdities. Mr. Bush referred to the terrorists, and the war on terrorism, this way:

“It is — because the war against terrorists is a war against individuals who hide in caves in remote parts of the world, individuals who have these kind of shadowy networks, individuals who deal with rogue nations.”

And this way:

I’m dealing with a world in which we have gotten struck by terrorists with airplanes, and we get intelligence saying that there is, you know, we want to harm America.

That last bit is particularly odd because the the terrorist didn’t have airplanes, they hijacked them – and to whom is the “we” in “we want to harm America” referring, anyway? And then there are the unintended consequences of transcriptions, as in this example:

Russert: There’s a sense in the country that the intelligence that was given was ambiguous, and that you took it and molded it and shaped it — your opponents have said “hyped” it — and rushed to war.
President Bush: Yeah.

Read out of context, this quote might seem to show Mr. Bush confirming that the intelligence was, in fact, ambiguous and that Mr. Bush did adjust it to fit his needs. This was not the likely intent of the President’s affirmative response – but even watching the interview unfold, it was difficult to tell if the President truly knew what he was saying at all times, and this is only one example of the problem.

Given the impoverished nature of American journalism – where few reporters ask politicians follow-up questions in order to pursue clear answers to specific queries that have not been adequately addressed – Mr. Russert’s interview with Mr. Bush revealed remarkable integrity on Russert’s part. He tried to get the President to answer questions directly, and he attempted, delicately, to ask questions again if he felt the answers weren’t clear. Likewise, the President seemed to want to answer questions directly, and everything from his words (the frequent need to say things like “let me put it in context”) to his body language (leaning forward intently to show he was listening, or serious in his responses) suggested this. Perhaps more disturbing than the interview itself is that of the many news stories reporting the President’s remarks, few bothered to note the evident confusion, contradictions, and general befuddlement of the leader of the United States of America. Perhaps the pain of doing so is too great; perhaps it is a truth too tough to acknowledge.

Yet when Mr. Bush says things like “we need really good intelligence,” he is all too right – and what is clearly missing is his own. The confusion and illogic of his answers in this interview only underscore the degree to which Mr. Bush and his administration have lied and manipulated facts to support their own ends. The interview also makes it quite apparent why the President rarely acquiesces to requests for these types of interactions with the media: he is not smart enough. Unless he is scripted, reading the words of someone who understands policies and can state them clearly, he cannot articulate the needs or positions of his own administration. Good intelligence is critically important, and it is time that we elect a President who has some – or at least, has more of it than Mr. Bush has yet been able to show us in his first term in office.

[1] The full transcript of Mr. Bush’s interview with Tim Russert is available on the web here: All excerpts subsequently quoted here credited to NBC’s “Meet the Press."   Copyright 2004, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.