Bush on Iraq, again: No military backdrop, but no questions, either

The president will stand by the troops at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Published December 6, 2005 9:19PM (EST)

Dick Cheney gave his usual speech about the war on terrorism before the usual backdrop of uniformed military folks today. But as Dan Froomkin reports, Cheney's boss will break from the all-military, all-the-time pattern Wednesday when he delivers an Iraq talk before the Council on Foreign Relations.

There's a catch, of course. In what Froomkin calls a "sharp break from tradition," the Council on Foreign Relations will allow Bush to speak without taking questions. "Obviously, we strongly suggested -- certainly made the case -- that it would be in the interest of the president and in the interest of our membership that the president take questions," the council's spokeswoman tells Froomkin. "But true to his format, they declined."

At least the president's speech will be on the record. The press wasn't allowed in the room to hear Dick Cheney speak at a Tom DeLay fundraiser in Houston last night. And when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke at a Time Warner event last month, Time editor Norman Pearlstine tried to take the whole thing off the record, an effort that failed when New York Daily News columnist Lloyd Grove reported at length on what Scalia might have said in the purely hypothetical case -- wink, wink -- that reporters were free to report on what he actually said.

The real question about Bush's speech is whether the president will say anything worth reporting. CNN aired every minute of Cheney's speech today at Fort Drum, N.Y., even though what he said there was pretty much exactly what he's said before. The president took a couple of questions today, but he offered more of the same in response, accusing those who disagree with him on Iraq of "playing politics" and failing to support the troops. "Our troops need to know that the American people stand with them, and we have a strategy for victory," Bush said. "And of course there will be debate, and of course there will be some pessimists and some people playing politics with the issue. But by far, the vast majority of people in this country stand squarely with the men and women who wear the nation's uniform."

There's no question that Bush and Cheney stand squarely with them -- or, at least, in front of them -- at Fort Drum, at Fort Bragg, at the Naval Academy, at the Air Force Academy, at the Naval Air Station in San Diego, at Bolling Air Force Base, at the Tobyhanna Army Depot, at Elmendorf Air Force Base, at the Osan Air Force Base, at just about anyplace, really, except the one place where it really matters most.

As for that place, Scott McClellan says the president will be talking again Wednesday about the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" as well as the economic progress he says is being made there. He probably won't talk so much about the American troops and Iraqi citizens dying there. Donald Rumsfeld said this week that that's the wrong measure for gauging success in Iraq, and it's something that must slip the president's mind sometimes, anyway. As the New York Times reported the other day, Bush knew when he walked into the White House Rose Garden last week that 10 U.S. Marines had just been killed in Iraq. He talked about the economy back home instead.

By Tim Grieve

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

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Dick Cheney George W. Bush Iraq War War Room