I can't get off the subject of the Iraq Study Group. I don't know why - I can't let it go. Something about the whole thing is nagging at me, like a tickle in my nose that heralds a sneeze that never actually comes...
Bush's press conference with Tony Blair yesterday bugged me. Enough, in fact, that I wrote a diary about it. It's difficult, however, to pinpoint what specifically bugs me about the things Bush says as an indicator of the things Bush will do - I'm literally buried by potential negative consequences every time I even consider what might lie ahead. And that's where I was at with the ISG - bothered. Not by the report per se; but by the reaction to it, the language, the answers to the questions asked by the press. And I couldn't put my finger on it.
Then I saw Ray Nagin interviewed and it was all crystal clear. Jump the fold.
Here are a few out-of-context statements made by George W. Bush in yesterday's press briefing with Tony Blair:
The Prime Minister and I seek a wide range of opinions about how to go forward in Iraq, and I appreciate your opinions and your advice.
The thing I liked about the Baker-Hamilton report is it discussed the way forward in Iraq. And I believe we need a new approach. And that's why I've tasked the Pentagon to analyze the way forward. That's why Prime Minister Blair is here to talk about the way forward, so we can achieve the objective, which is an Iraq which can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror.
And the Baker-Hamilton commission showed it's possible for people of goodwill to sit down at the table and design a way forward.
And so I view this as a very important way forward, important concepts.
And what the Baker-Hamilton study has done is it shows good ideas as to how to go forward. What our Pentagon is doing is figuring out ways to go forward, all aiming to achieve our objective.
But one thing is central to this new course, and that is the Iraqi government must be given more responsibility so they can prove to their people and to their allies that they're capable of making hard decisions necessary for their young democracy to move forward
I find it interesting that when Prime Minister Olmert reaches out to Palestinians to discuss a way forward on the two state solution, Hezbollah attacks Israel..
And I -- and so you ask its relative importance. I'd call it a very important report, and a very important part of our working to a new approach, a new way forward in Iraq.
Even CNN's getting in on the schtick and snark of this "way forward""
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When those pesky reporters start asking those "f" word questions --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you capable of admitting your failures?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you acknowledge that your approach has failed.
MOOS: It's time to tell them to look forward, not back.
BUSH: And design a way forward.
MOOS: In one answer alone, President Bush used the phrase five times --
BUSH: The way forward in Iraq. An important way forward. Talk about the way forward. Analyze the way forward.
MOOS: Apparently the way forward is contagious. Tony Blair caught it standing next to President Bush.
TONY BLAIR: The way forward. How do we find the right way forward? We've got to get the right way forward.
Ha ha, right? Funny stuff. Funnier still when CNN and Moos cuts all the "forward" moments together Olbermann-style. Funny even to me because, even while it bothered me, it's always good fun to see Bush kind of exposing himself as the parrot that he is. And THAT is when I saw Ray Nagin (bet you thought I forgot him).
Nagin was giving an interview on CNN to repeat his mantra urging Congress to accelerate disbursement of aid for relief of Hurricane Katrina (good article on this can be found here). It wasn't the substance of the interview that was remarkable - it was seeing Ray Nagin that was remarkable. Because, suddenly, it clicked for me, what had been bugging me about Bush's statements about the "way forward" in Iraq.
I was transported back to September 2005 and this statement from a USA Today article about Katrina and it's aftermath:
Bush said that while critics want "to play a blame game," he and his administration have "got to solve problems. ... There will be ample time for people to figure out what went right and what went wrong.
You remember the "blame game", right? And another similar cut-together montage of Scotty repeating the phrase over and over and over during a White House press briefing. He looked like an idiot, right? And we were all outraged, but we laughed because he was utterly foolish. But you know what? IT WORKED. Instead of standing our ground and insisting that we could walk and chew gum at the same time and that we had to look at how all those people died and were abandoned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the public shifted to relief and rejected the "blame game". We looked forward. And as time has a tendency to do, the urgent sense of looking back faded as the tasks ahead mounted.
Sound like anything we're hearing today? Yesterday? This is so obvious and I'm sorry if I sound patronizing in pointing it out, but it was what was bothering me and I didn't connect to it on the level I needed to until Nagin's interview: Looking forward is, obviously, a deliberate attempt to keep people from looking back. So obvious, yet its impact eluded me.
And just in case you're wondering, here are a few pictures of what "forward" looked like in New Orleans as recently as May and June of this year, nearly one year after the Hurricane: