Okay, I just finished reading the transcript, and I have to say that I think Russert's claim to be a tough interview is now fully in the shitter. No tough follow-ups, no challenges on instances of factual incorrectness, and only a couple of instances where he brought up inconsistencies between things Bush or his administration had said and what they're saying now.

The majority of the talk had to do with the war in Iraq. Let me tell you what Russert didn't ask about--he didn't challenge Bush on the naming of Laurence Silberman to the Intel Commission, which Josh Marshall so neatly dissects here. Russert also didn't ask him about the Plame affair, the Office of Special Plans (basically Cheney's and Rumsfeld's personal intel agency), or the alleged connections between Iraq and Al-Qaeda. And that's just in the first half of the interview.

So what did Russert ask the President about? The first question had to do with the Intel Commission and why he had opposed the creation of it in the first place. Bush's reply?

Well, first let me kind of step back and talk about intelligence in general, if I might. Intelligence is a vital part of fighting and winning the war against the terrorists. It is because the war against terrorists is a war against individuals who hide in caves in remote parts of the world, individuals who have these kind of shadowy networks, individuals who deal with rogue nations. So, we need a good intelligence system. We need really good intelligence.
So, the commission I set up is to obviously analyze what went right or what went wrong with the Iraqi intelligence. It was kind of lessons learned. But it's really set up to make sure the intelligence services provide as good a product as possible for future presidents as well. This is just a part of analyzing where we are on the war against terror.
There is a lot of investigations going on about the intelligence service, particularly in the Congress, and that's good as well. The Congress has got the capacity to look at the intelligence gathering without giving away state secrets, and I look forward to all the investigations and looks.
Again, I repeat to you, the capacity to have good intelligence means that a president can make good calls about fighting this war on terror.
That's a lot of verbiage. Too bad it didn't actually answer the question, namely, why Bush had been hesitant, even outright opposed to naming the commission in the first place. But did Russert follow up? Nope--just switched gears into Britain and comparisons to the Blair commission.

But let's move on to the justification for the war in Iraq. Look at this little exchange:
President Bush: The evidence I had was the best possible evidence that he had a weapon.
Russert: But it may have been wrong.
President Bush: Well, but what wasn't wrong was the fact that he had the ability to make a weapon. That wasn't right.
Russert: This is an important point because when you say that he has biological and chemical weapons and unmanned aerial vehicles
President Bush: Which he had.
Russert: and they could come and attack the United States, you are saying to the American people: we have to deal now with a man who has these things.
President Bush: That's exactly what I said.
Now, despite the fact that we have found exactly zero chemical and biological weapons and that the unmanned aerial vehicles we did find were little more than amped-up hobby store planes, it seems as though Russert is making Bush's case for him.

And later, while on the same subject, Bush let this stunner loose:
I repeat to you what I strongly believe that inaction in Iraq would have emboldened Saddam Hussein. He could have developed a nuclear weapon over time I'm not saying immediately, but over time which would then have put us in what position? We would have been in a position of blackmail.
Whatever happened to the guy who said "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

But that was nothing--he followed it up in this exchange:
Russert: On Iraq, the vice president said, “we would be greeted as liberators.”
President Bush: Yeah.
Russert: It's now nearly a year, and we are in a very difficult situation. Did we miscalculate how we would be treated and received in Iraq?
President Bush: Well, I think we are welcomed in Iraq. I'm not exactly sure, given the tone of your questions, we're not. We are welcomed in Iraq.
bolding mine Thanks Mr. President. I'll be sure to pass that sentiment along to the grieving families both in the US and in Iraq.

Eventually the interview turned away from Iraq, and toward a far more pressing matter--Bush's Vietnam record. We all know how this discussion goes--Bush says he served honorably in the Air National Guard, and was honorably discharged, end of story. Predictably, Russert doesn't challenge him on this, nor does he ask Bush about the strings that were obviously pulled to get him into the Guard, and only manages to extract a feeble promise to release all his military records while simultaneously stating that they may be lost. But he did provide this little nugget:
The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me as I look back was it was a political war. We had politicians making military decisions, and it is lessons that any president must learn, and that is to the set the goal and the objective and allow the military to come up with the plans to achieve that objective. And those are essential lessons to be learned from the Vietnam War.
bolding mine So a political war is bad, Mr. President? Hmmmm. Looks like that lesson didn't take either.

The last part of the interview dealt with economics and was about as inconsequential as the rest, but I'm not going into detail because I've run on at length on this long enough and because I have just about enough economics knowledge to keep my checkbook balanced on a good day. I'll leave that to others. Suffice it to say that the pattern continued--Russert tossed a softball, Bush answered with something that made no sense and Russert went on to the next one. The sun goes up, the sun goes down, and all little media whores cash their checks and thank the President for his "middle class tax cut."

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