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Post Politics Hour: The President and the Press

Washington Post White House reporter Peter Baker answered questions from readers during Wednesday's Post Politics Hour. Selected questions from the chat and a link to the full transcript are included below:

Dover, Del.: President Bush was on his game at the press conference. He was emotional, sincere, and touched me when he said that if he didn't believe we could win he'd bring the boys home. I'm a believer! I have always backed him, but may have started to wander onto the fringes of questioning our strategy. No more. I'm with him, this country and our troops.

Peter Baker: Lots of reaction today to President Bush's news conference yesterday. As usual, it was dominated by Iraq. If you had a chance to watch, send in your reaction and I'll post a few.

Brunswick, Ga.: Now that President Bush had stated that the next President will have to decide when to bring the troops home from Iraq, won't that question become a defining issue in the presidential primaries for every candidate in both parties? My personal feeling is this is Bush's war and he needs to get it over before he leaves office.

Peter Baker: Another view from the news conference. The biggest news probably was the president's statement that the question of when all U.S. troops would be out of Iraq "will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq." That's probably not really a surprise, in that most people in Washington have expected that at least some U.S. troops would remain there for many years (look how long we've stayed in Germany and Japan after World War II, or even Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War). But it was still striking to hear the president articulate it that way, making clear he does not view this as ending completely in the next three years.

Tallahassee, Fla.: President Bush yesterday said that the decision to remove U.S. troops from Iraq may very well be up to future administrations or Iraqi governments. If pressure from the American public to withdrawal U.S. forces increases what avenues would Congress have to bring the troops home? Is the only route to simply cut off funding?

Peter Baker: In theory I imagine they could cut off funding, but as a practical and political matter, it's hard to see a Congress inserting itself that deeply into war decision making. True, the Constitution left it to Congress to declare war, but that hasn't really happened since World War II and in the modern era Congress has been extremely reluctant to try to force a president's hand in such a matter legislatively.

New York, N.Y.: In The Post piece this morning on funds going to Bush allies, the term conservative appears 14 times while the term liberal appears only twice. Yet groups such as Planned Parenthood is merely an "abortion rights group," and when complaints surface in the story from the Sexuality Education and Information Council of the United States (SIECUS), they are not liberal, merely "one of the most outspoken critics of abstinence-only sex education programs."

If the press is going to engage in labeling such groups (which I think they should), shouldn't it be even across the board? This happens every day in the Post, NY Times and the rest of the MSM.

Peter Baker: Hi, thanks for the question. You touch on a sensitive and tough issue for newspapers -- when do we label a person or an organization by political views? Some say we should never do it, but I think that can be a disservice to the reader. I agree that if we identify conservative groups as conservative, we ought to identify liberal groups as liberal. In some cases, though, that's not as easy as it sounds. I've found that many conservatives have no problem identifying themselves that way, but some liberals don't like the term or see themselves that way, others even prefer the term "progressive." So can we identify someone as believing an ideology that they don't say they believe in? The best solution is to say a group advocates a particular issue, rather than just say conservative or liberal. For instance, we can say "the NRA, a group that promotes gun rights," or "Handgun Control, a group that promotes gun restrictions." It's more precise anyway. As for Tom Edsall's smart story this morning, it probably uses the word conservative more than liberal because it's about conservative groups getting these grants. I don't think counting necessarily tells us anything in a story that's predominantly about groups on one side of the political spectrum.

Washington, D.C.: How are Bush's approval ratings impacting congressional races and campaigns at this point?

Peter Baker: Hard to say. Some Republicans clearly are trying to distance themselves from the president. Not a single member of the Ohio Republican congressional delegation showed up when the president went to Cleveland this week. (They pleaded scheduling conflicts.) At the same time, polls show that congressional Democrats aren't doing any better than Bush in approval ratings. So at the moment it all still looks up for grabs to me.

Bedford, Mass.: It strikes me that Bush is waging a new campaign: the war on journalists. To be sure, some of the fake folksiness is intended to humanize him, but in the last two press conferences Bush has taken repeated digs at reporters--questioning their professionalism, fairness and seriousness. Do all Presidents do this? Does the press corp share the perception that the White House is trying to damage the credibility of journalists?

Peter Baker: All politicians take shots at the press, particularly those who are in political trouble. But I haven't taken any digs by the president at news conferences as especially hostile or anything. In fact, compared to most, Bush isn't particularly thin-skinned about reporters and doesn't seem to take what we write personally. As a journalist, I'm much more worried about attempts by the government to hunt down sources and hide information.

Read the full transcript of Wednesday's Politics Hour discussion.

Thursday at 11 a.m. ET: Washington Post White House reporter Michael Fletcher hosts the Post Politics Hour. Submit a question or comment here.

By Editors  |  March 22, 2006; 2:32 PM ET
Categories:  Fix Notes  
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Next: McCain Bags a Big One


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Posted by: Anonymous | March 30, 2006 3:36 AM | Report abuse

When is the American people going to wake up and understand what truly is happening to our way of life?

Whatever happened to the old adage, "Buy American, because the job you save may be your own"?

When are we going to understand that when we buy products produced in Communist China that we are doing nothing more than supporting the policies of this rogue regime and that we are paying for the huge military buildup?

At some point, these decisions being made will come back to haunt us in ways that will make Saddam look like a choir boy.

Posted by: Charles Mason | March 24, 2006 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Helen Thomas is a REAL journalist, unlike the Gannons of the presidential media. She asks hard questions when she gets the chance...and that is very rare because GWB doesn't like hard questions. But do notice that he never answered her question yesterday...stammered around and talked about other topics. She just wondered why we went to war. So do I.

Posted by: Arminda | March 23, 2006 5:08 PM | Report abuse

It seems to me that the war on the press is one sided. Helen Thomas is a typical hateful libral with two losses from Gw bush to 0 wins for her side. It is clear to anyone with ears that this spitefull lady has only one view that is shared with the likes of george Soris and other loosers.

Posted by: Media PA RAD | March 23, 2006 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Che - why don't you start up your OWN blog. That way, If people want to read the long articles you seemt to like to distribute, they can CHOOSE to do so.


Posted by: Colin | March 22, 2006 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Please bookmark:

Bush says US troops to remain in Iraq indefinitely

By Jerry White
22 March 2006

Use this version to print | Send this link by email | Email the author

At a White House press conference Tuesday morning President George W. Bush suggested that the US would continue the occupation of Iraq for years, if not decades, to come. Asked if there would be a day when there were no more American forces in that country, Bush replied that that would be “decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq.”

Bush suggested that US troops would remain long after the end of his administration in January 2009, making it clear that the country is to be reduced to the status of a semi-colonial protectorate. Refusing to give a “timetable” for complete withdrawal, the president repeated his oft-made statement that US military commanders would decide when force levels would be reduced.

The president’s statement followed remarks made at a public appearance in Cleveland Monday and earlier on Tuesday in which he made clear that he would not bow to growing public demands for the withdrawal of US troops three years after the criminal invasion of Iraq. In his speech he reiterated his determination to go to war against Iran if it developed nuclear weapons or threatened Israel.

Bush’s brazenness is testimony to the fact that his administration confronts no serious opposition from the Democratic Party, which, in addition to its general cowardice, supports the geopolitical aim of establishing US control over the oil-rich regions of the Middle East and Central Asia. With no one in the political establishment or the media calling him to account, Bush has declared that US forces will not leave Iraq and that the country will be turned into a permanent military base for the launching of future adventures in the name of the so-called war on terror.

Expressing his contempt for popular opinion, Bush presented the increasing support for withdrawal of US troops as the product of a misguided response to “reports of killings and reprisals,” which suggest that civil war had broken out in Iraq. The American people, he claimed, were being unduly influenced by the bloody images they saw each night on their television screens.

He blamed the media for being unwitting accomplices of the terrorists, who, he said, were just waiting for America “to lose its nerve” and withdraw its troops. Rejecting recent poll numbers indicating growing public opposition to the war, Bush said, his job was to tell the people what he thought, and that he was determined to “win the war on terrorism.”

During the Cleveland speech Bush outlined his strategy of securing Iraq by pointing to the military operation by US and Iraqi forces to remove “insurgents” and “foreign terrorists” from Tal Afar, an oil-rich city of 200,000 near the Syrian border. In September 2005, 3,000 US troops and 5,000 Iraqi troops laid siege to Tal Afar, after ringing the city with an eight-foot high, 12-mile long dirt wall, forcibly relocating tens of thousands of inhabitant into makeshift housing outside of the city and raiding surrounding villages to cut off any support for anti-occupation forces.

During the days of bombing and block-by-block assaults of “Operation Restoring Rights,” hundreds were killed and Tal Afar, cut off from electricity and water, was reduced, according to one report, into a “phantom city.” Far from opposing sectarian conflicts during the operation, the US military command reportedly relied on Shiite and Kurdish forces to carry out the bloody repression against Sunni and Turkomen residents.

Such atrocities on the part of the US and its allies in Iraq are common occurrences. According to the New York Times, police investigators in Salahaddin Province have accused American troops of executing 11 civilians, including several children during a raid March 15 on a house in Ishaqi, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, an Interior Ministry official said Monday. According to the investigators, the American troops lined up the civilians and shot them, then killed livestock and destroyed the house, the official said. A local police commander in Ishaqi told Knight-Ridder Newspapers, that an autopsy had detected bullet wounds in all the victims’ heads.

Marking the third anniversary of the war, Bush shamelessly repeated the lies used to justify the March 2003 invasion.

At Tuesday’s press conference veteran reporter Helen Thomas, who after noting that the claims of weapons of mass destruction and Iraq-terrorist ties “had turned out not to be true,” asked the president, “Why did you really go to war?” She noted that long before September 11 he and other administration officials had set their sights on Iraq, and have since denied that the invasion had anything to do with “the quest for oil.”

Bush replied piously, “To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong.... No president wants war. Everything that you have heard is that, but it’s simply not true.” He went on to claim that September 11 changed his “attitude about the defense of the country” and that “[o]ur foreign policy changed on that day”—both claims that have long been exposed as lies.

Confident that he would not face any further challenge from the rest of the press corps, Bush then rehashed the falsehoods that the war was waged to disarm Iraq and prevent it from being a safe-haven for future terrorist attacks against the US. After claiming that his efforts to find a peaceful resolution had failed, Bush said, “I had a difficult decision to make to remove [Saddam Hussein]. And we did. And the world is safer for it,” he declared.

At a rare public appearance before a civilian—not military—audience at the City Club of Cleveland Monday, Bush was also challenged about the claims used to launch the war, as well as the massive cost of the war—$251 billion or more than $2,200 per US household—and his administration’s illegal spying on US citizens.

The president replied nervously and, in many cases, incoherently to questions that expressed the mounting popular opposition to the war. Assured, however, that he will face no serious opposition from the Democrats, Bush declared that the US would remain in Iraq until “victory” and threatened to launch future wars against Iran and other countries in the name of the ‘war on terror.’

See Also:

Posted by: che | March 22, 2006 4:53 PM | Report abuse

"...the question of when all U.S. troops would be out of Iraq 'will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq.'"

Sounds like Somalia. George H. W. Bush gets us involved in Somalia where we don't belong, where the military mission is questionable at best, without an exit strategy, and gets to walk away from it on January 20th 1993. Then the right-wingers bash Clinton and Les Aspin for being there.

At least Bush 43 is up front about it. Is it acceptable political etiquette for the Administration to start blaming Clinton before they leave office?

Posted by: Blame It on Bubba | March 22, 2006 3:43 PM | Report abuse

I don't worry what this wannabe drugstore cowboy bush as I know he and his administration are nothing but lying hypocrites and can't be believed about anything, except they will do anything to continue to get our troops murdered and help out their wealthy contractor and oil friends. What really worries me is the likes of the Dover, DE writer who so mistakenly thinks bush is on his game. Gag, puke! It is precisely these kinds of people that voted for this war-mongering administration that is causing this country to go belly-up and over the proverbial cliff! And then of course, we have the spineless democrats who can't seem to stand up to anything, or the gutless media who continue to pander to this absolute horror show called the administration. When will you people get half a brain and see what all of you are doing to this country?

Posted by: kay | March 22, 2006 2:55 PM | Report abuse

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