Is Bush trying to make the Iraq war boring?

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
June 14 2006 2:44 PM

Baghdad and Boredom

Bush's brilliant new Iraq strategy.

George W. Bush. Click image to expand.
George W. Bush

Though President Bush was tired after his late-night return from Baghdad, his aides were smart enough to know that they could take advantage of at least one more news cycle. At his press conference Wednesday morning, Bush was clearly energized about progress in the Iraqi government. He started to talk before he'd even made it to the podium. He can be dangerous when he's in a good mood—he gets cocky and Bushisms abound. But aides are willing to take the risk because his kinetic responses to questions about Iraq do more to promote his policies than hours of set-piece speeches.

He moved off the talking points to emote about his gut instincts about the new government, a spooky echo of his first assessment of Putin, and then made the extraordinary claim that his "doubts about whether or not this government has got the will to go forward was expelled [sic]." The president also employed dashes of candor he's been adding since last fall, made some nods to his critics, and acknowledged mistakes—rhetorical moves he's also been working on for a while. He even chastised himself for sounding too bullish about progress. Commentators afterward immediately picked up on Bush's tone and his energy just as the White House had hoped.


At the same time, the substance of what Bush had to say was unusually boring. He talked about the Iraqi ministries, energy policy, the "new rule of law initiative," "reconciliation committee," "hydrocarbon law," "public finance system," and an "economic framework that promotes growth and job creation and opportunity"—were we suddenly in Brussels? Parts of the press conference felt like a tedious ministerial meeting at the European Commission. The president was this close to talking about plenary sessions. To make matters worse, then the president went on to delineate all the different Cabinet agency officials who will be making field trips to Iraq. Throughout the summer and fall we're going to have to hear about Commerce, State, Energy, and Agriculture teams slogging over there to meet with their Iraqi counterparts. The only thing more boring than bureaucrats visiting bureaucrats is hearing plans about how bureaucrats are going to interface and dialogue with bureaucrats.

Perhaps this is a clever new political strategy. Despite yesterday's flashy photo-op visit, the president's most effective new gambit may be to make his progress reports on Iraq sound as tedious and normal as any other political occasion. It's not a perfect pitch—it's hard for Cabinet officials to hold "normal" meetings when everyone's wearing 80 pounds of body armor—but the details of normalcy are a more powerful retort to the images of car bombs than any of Bush's careful new formulations about the pace of progress.

The White House once thought a flashy carrier landing was the ceremony for success in Iraq. But the true indication of progress may be when the president's speeches on the subject are just as boring as the State of the Union.

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.


Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?


Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 3:53 PM Smash and Grab Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?
Oct. 20 2014 5:39 PM Whole Foods Desperately Wants Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 5:03 PM Marcel the Shell Is Back and as Endearing as Ever
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.