Stop us if you've heard this one before

George W. Bush will will address the nation tonight to describe his plan for Iraq.


Tim Grieve
June 28, 2005 3:50PM (UTC)

In his administration's latest effort to turn around public opinion on a war that's growing steadily more unpopular, George W. Bush travels to North Carolina's Fort Bragg today to set forth what White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan calls his "very specific" ideas about "the way forward in Iraq."

We don't mean to misunderestimate the president, but we're not exactly hanging on the edges of our seats. We've seen this movie before.

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Check out this report from Fox News: "Seeking to allay fears that the Iraq situation is spiraling out of control, President Bush will tell Americans and the world Monday night that he has a blueprint to create a democratic nation out of the Arab country."

That was May 24, 2004, and the speech Bush delivered then was widely panned for being long on rhetoric but short on specifics.

Four months and about 250 fallen U.S. soldiers later, Bush tried again. His aides told the networks in October 2004 that the president would be delivering a "major policy address" on the war on terrorism. CNN and MSNBC took the bait and covered it live, but what they got was the switch: As Slate's Fred Kaplan wrote at the time, "The president announced no new policy, uttered not one new word about terrorism, foreign policy, or anything else. . . . In short, the cable networks were lured into airing an hour-long free campaign ad for George W. Bush."

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Bush isn't running for anything this time around, but that doesn't mean that TV viewers should be expecting anything they haven't already heard tonight. Bush previewed his "new" Iraq theme with his radio address over the weekend, and it's one that sounds awfully familiar: We're making progress, but it's hard work. And oh yeah, don't forget this: The U.S. was attacked on 9/11 -- not by Saddam Hussein, but whatever.

Even Scott McClellan is having a hard time spinning this version of the story as something new. He was given three chances at yesterday's White House press briefing to say that the president would be offering new ideas on Iraq, and three times he punted.

Asked whether the president will be offering up new ideas or simply summing up what he's said before, McClellan said: "This is a new speech. And the president will be talking in a very specific way about the strategy for succeeding in Iraq. And he will talk about the two-track strategy that we have in place. He touched on it a little bit last week; he's touched on it in -- many times over recent weeks. But this is going to be the president talking about it in a very specific way, about where we are for succeeding and where we are in implementing that strategy."

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Asked if people were "going to hear things they haven't heard the president say before, "McClellan said: "I think many Americans have not heard much of what the President has to say tomorrow night." And then, asked whether the speech represented "a new direction . . . or not," McClellan finally kicked the questions upstairs. "You're going to hear from the president tomorrow night," he said. The reporters gave up, and then McClellan did what Bush would like to do tonight: He segued the conversation back to one about 9/11.


Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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