The world might be less stressful if the president of the most powerful nation didn't so frequently convey the impression that he has no idea what's going on.
Here are three recent examples of his bewildering remarks, plus one from his secretary of state.
1. "If we leave [Iraq] before the mission is complete, if we withdraw, the enemy will follow us home."
This was from a speech by George W. Bush in Lancaster, Pa., last Aug. 16. That's not so recent, but the comment was repeated just this month by Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and by Ohio Republican Rep. John Boehner; so someone up high still seems to think it's true or at least catchy.
In fact, it makes no sense whatever. First, it assumes that "the enemy" in Iraq consists entirely of al-Qaida terrorists, when they comprise only a small segment of the forces attacking U.S. troops. Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias are not likely to "follow us home."
Second, if terrorists wanted to attack American territory again (and maybe they do), their ability to do so is unaffected by whether we stay in or pull out of Iraq. It's not as if they're all holed up in Baghdad and Anbar province, just waiting for the fighting to stop so they can climb out of their foxholes and go blow up New York. If al-Qaida is a global network, its agents can fight in both places.
Third, this is a hell of a thing to say in front of the allies. It's a crudely selfish message, suggesting that we're getting a lot of people killed over there in order that nobody gets killed back here. What leader of a beleaguered nation, reading this remark, would seek America's protection?
2. "What we do know is that the Quds force was instrumental in providing these deadly IEDs to networks inside of Iraq. … And we also know that the Quds force is a part of the Iranian government. … What we don't know is whether or not the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds force to do what they did. But here's my point: Either they knew or didn't know, and what matters is, is that they're there. What's worse—that the government knew or that the government didn't know?
There are two things worse—that the U.S. government doesn't know whether the Iranian government knew, and that the American president doesn't seem to care.
This may be unfair; he probably does care. So, what's really worse—judging from this passage from Bush's Feb. 14 press conference—is that he doesn't seem to be doing much to find out.
One way to find out might be to open up talks with Iran. Many former officials, of both parties, have urged the Bush administration to engage with Iran on a number of issues, for a number of reasons affecting national security. Here's one more. If these particularly lethal IEDs known as "explosively formed penetrators" are being supplied with the Iranian government's knowledge, maybe a deal can be struck to stop the flow; if they're being supplied without high officials' knowledge, maybe a deal can be struck to crack down jointly on the rogue agents.
One thing is clear from this: The Bush administration doesn't want to talk with the Iranians on principle. Maybe the Iranians don't want to talk with us, either. It wouldn't kill us to find out. (It didn't kill us to find out, finally, with the North Koreans.)