"MR. LEHRER: Mr. President, do you have a feeling of personal failure about Iraq right now?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I'm frustrated at times about Iraq because I understand the consequences of failure. I want the Iraqis to succeed for our own sake. This is a war; part of a broader war, and that if we fail in Iraq, there is a better likelihood that the enemy comes and hurts us here. And so, I am frustrated with the progress. If you were to take it and put me in an opinion poll and said do I approve of Iraq, I'd be one of those that said, no, I don't approve of what's taking place in Iraq. On the other hand, I do believe we can succeed. Look, I had a choice to make, Jim, and that is - one - do what we're doing. And one could define that maybe a slow failure. Secondly, withdraw out of Baghdad and hope for the best. I would think that would be expedited failure. And thirdly is to help this Iraqi government with additional forces - help them do what they need to do, which is to provide security in Baghdad."
But note. He cannot say that he failed or that he feels a sense of failure. Isn't that interesting? Most of us are certainly able to see that in ourselves. I feel a sense of failure often, and the stakes I deal with are miniscule. Bush must erect a giant wall somewhere inside that keeps those thoughts at bay. Would almost have to.
It was this next exchange that bothered me the most. After all these years, he still can't answer this question, and I am so glad that Lehrer asked it:
MR. LEHRER: Let me ask you a bottom-line question, Mr. President. If it is as important as you've just said - and you've said it many times - as all of this is, particularly the struggle in Iraq, if it's that important to all of us and to the future of our country, if not the world, why have you not, as president of the United States, asked more Americans and more American interests to sacrifice something? The people who are now sacrificing are, you know, the volunteer military - the Army and the U.S. Marines and their families. They're the only people who are actually sacrificing anything at this point.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night. I mean, we've got a fantastic economy here in the United States, but yet, when you think about the psychology of the country, it is somewhat down because of this war.
Now, here in Washington when I say, "What do you mean by that?," they say, "Well, why don't you raise their taxes; that'll cause there to be a sacrifice." I strongly oppose that. If that's the kind of sacrifice people are talking about, I'm not for it because raising taxes will hurt this growing economy. And one thing we want during this war on terror is for people to feel like their life's moving on, that they're able to make a living and send their kids to college and put more money on the table. And you know, I am interested and open-minded to the suggestion, but this is going to be -
A) he is not openminded, and B) he has no idea what sacrifice means. Why should he? Has he ever been called to sacrifice anything?
It is kind of sad that he goes from that tortured (oops) answer of American sacrificing peace of mind to an immediate defense of tax cuts. After the interview ran, Lehrer asked Shields and David Brooks to comment. See that here. Sheilds addresses the sacrifice question first:
I thought, Jim, his answer on the sacrifice question I thought was just absolutely less than defective. I mean, this is a man who is ahistorical. Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, every president who has presided over a war -- and the president describes this as a nation at war, this is the battle, the ideological battle of the century that we're engaged in. It's an all-out global effort.
And every one of them saw the need to call upon their nation, two Republicans, two Democrats, for collective and individual sacrifice, that war does demand equality of sacrifice. And that just eludes him. He just becomes a tax-cutter again. He reduces the whole argument to that.
JIM LEHRER: What did you think about that answer?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I guess I agree with it. Fundamentally, I don't think anybody -- first, let me say that I don't think anybody thought Iraq was going to become Iowa. I think that's a caricature of what the argument was at the time.
As for the sacrifice, he's absolutely correct. I mean, what Mark said is absolutely correct, which is that he's been asked this before -- I've been in a session where he's been asked this before. And you hear this from the military constantly: The phenomenal sacrifices they and their families are making is not reflected in what the rest of us are doing.
And he's got to have an answer to that. Not only does he have to have an answer, he has to have a policy. And he really has been afraid to do this. And it's symptomatic, I think, of a lot of the other things that have gone wrong