Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Bush admits can't win war on terror

When asked “Can we win?” the war on terror, Bush said, “I don’t think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the — those who use terror as a tool are — less acceptable in parts of the world.”
--New York Daily News, August 30, 2004

"One of the interesting things people ask me, now that we are asking questions, is, 'Can you ever win the war on terror?' Of course you can."
Press briefing, White House, April 13, 2004

Via Harry's Place and Talking Points Memo

The White House have tried to explain, saying in essence that the President's comments on April 13th were wrong, and he's never believed you could win the war on terror'. "I don't think you can expect that there will ever be a formal surrender or a treaty signed like we have in wars past," Press spokesman Scott McClellan said. "That's what he was talking about. It requires a generational commitment to win this war on terrorism."

This is obviously nonsense on stilts. There are three options to explain what happened (ignoring the highly possible chance that Bush just meant to say the opposite on one of the occasions). Either he was wrong to say 'of course you can', or he was wrong to say 'no you can't' or something has changed in between.

Given Bush's famous ability for straight-talking, I suspect it might be the latter. The big question is therefore - what has changed to so change the President's mind between April and August? Obviously one can speculate, for example the growing realisation that -- as predicted by most intelligence agencies -- the invasion of Iraq has only increased the risk of terrorism, the rising death toll from terrorism in 2003 over 2002 (correcting earlier figures showing a fall), perhaps even the recognition that his execution of foreign policy has been 'wretched', to quote John Lewis Gaddis.

This all gives Michael Howard some optimism. When Bush's spokesman told us that Howard was banned from the White House and from meeting the President, did he only mean in some technical, formal, term? Or will he change his mind? Mike shouldn't give up hope yet.