First Shot: Fred Barnes
There’s trouble in Iraq and brickbats from the ludicrous 9/11 Commission. Yet President Bush gained ground this week, politically and otherwise. Remember the coverage in the mainstream press of Iraq last week? There was supposedly a broad-based uprising against the American occupation. Turns out that was wrong. The extremist Islamic cleric Moqtada al-Sadr failed to ignite an uprising. Now his Mahdi army has disintegrated and he is isolated in Najf, alone and trying to plea-bargain on a murder charge. In Fallujah, U.S. Marines are slowly but surely wiping out the Baathist extremists, terrorists, and criminals. Meanwhile, the United Nations has come up with a reasonable plan for governing Iraq during the six months after sovereignty is turned over and before an elected government is installed. In Washington, Bush sailed through a prime time press conference in which he was peppered with gotcha questions and accusations dressed up as questions. The president had one point — we’re staying the course in Iraq — and he made it repeatedly and forcefully. The media would rather Bush say “uncle” and admit mistakes. He refused, as presidents usually do. The 9/11 Commission drifted into finger-pointing and a whopping conflict of interest. Now it is threatened with having its recommendations dismissed as the work of a compromised, partisan, egomaniacal commission. The week’s scores: Bush 1, press 0 and Bush 1, Commission 0.
Mort Kondracke Responds
Fred's got it right about the week. Despite the violence in Iraq, accusations from Richard Clarke and attacks by Democrat John Kerry, Bush survived it all. The media and Sen. Edward Kennedy, Kerry's attack dog, were painting pictures of Iraq-as-Vietnam again. It isn't. The al-Sadr rebellion did not trigger a general Shiite uprising or a national one. Violence will soon be limited to Fallujah, where the enemy is a familiar one. And much of the insurgent force there may soon be dead. There remains a problem of transferring Iraqi sovereignty to somebody, but Bush is doing what his critics demand: involving the U.N. The 9/11 hearings, which I thought were useful in informing the public in depth about what went on pre-9/11, showed that nobody did enough to prevent the attacks; not Bush, not Clinton, not the FBI or CIA, nor the Justice Department under Bush and (especially) Clinton. The much-yelled-about Presidential Daily Brief of Aug. 6, 2001, contained nothing damning to Bush. Bush will be judged on post-9/11 activities, not pre-, and on this score he rides high. After a week of battering, his overall approval ratings are down, but he's still tied with Kerry. Not bad.