Say what?

February 14, 2007

Before the members of the House of Representatives had even begun their three days' worth of soliloquies on Iraq, President Bush declared that he didn't plan to pay attention.

That's his right, no doubt, and it's certainly not unprecedented. There's plenty that he's chosen not to pay attention to since he moved into the Oval Office - as the perjury trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, in its own peculiar way, helps to illustrate, because it gets back to the way the White House reacted to evidence that there might not be weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Mr. Bush presides over an administration that feels comfortable with what it believes in and strives mightily to exclude all else.

This is what the president said in an interview Monday on C-SPAN about the House proceedings: "In terms of watching the debate, I've got a lot to do. You know, I've got a full day. I mean, it's not as if the world stops when Congress does their duty. I already know what the debate is."

Fine. Capitol Hill isn't exactly home these days to a latter-day Cicero or Patrick Henry, and much of yesterday's oratory was both predictable and forgettable. Still, for a president whose lack of curiosity, especially about the conditions prevailing in Iraq, helped propel the United States into this mess in the first place, it was not the most politic thing to say. Mr. Bush may think he knows all the answers; the real problem is that he doesn't seem to know the questions.

So here's one from a viewer in Ohio, as relayed on the C-SPAN interview: How will Americans know when victory has been achieved in Iraq?

Mr. Bush: "It's a difficult question to answer." (He's had four years to think about that one.) Victory will be at hand, he finally said, when Iraq has a society "where life is relatively normal, one that rejects extremism and violence."

A reply like that suggests he really should be listening in to the House; he might pick up an idea or two that would help him come up with a concrete conception of what the U.S. mission in Iraq is trying to accomplish.

As for his full schedule, his only public appearances yesterday were to promote volunteerism. "We've got a lot of people volunteering in the country, and one of my calls is for people to do more of it," he said. That's a fine sentiment. We'd like him to start by paying more attention to Congress - voluntarily, of course.

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