President Bush held a press conference with Tony Blair on Thursday. The Republican world and press pundits want to know if, at long last, Mr. Bush now deserves credit for admitting an error.
Or to put it another way: are you kidding?? Credit? In what universe? This is a joke, right? No, no, no. A thousand times no.
Okay, so, a child breaks into the neighbor's house, steals their valuables, kills their pet, throws a tantrum for sneaking home late and getting grounded, realizes he should cover his tracks and sets the neighbor's house on fire, the flames destroy the neighborhood, he steals their car, robs a liquor store, beats the attendant into a coma, and shoots all witnesses - and he deserves credit for, five years later, admitting he shouldn't have thrown a tantrum?
Look, yes, we all know it's good to acknowledge our errors. And it's absolutely nice that the President did so. Well done, sir! Hat's off! Kudos.
But the issue isn't if it's nice that the President admitted something. The actual question the reporter asked was -
"Mr. President, you spoke about missteps and mistakes in Iraq. Could I ask both of you which missteps and mistakes of your own you most regret?
What all the pundits have missed is, he didn't answer the question.
The question was, which mistakes do you "most regret." So, let's see: here's a man whose approval rating has plummeted from 90% to 29% - and we're expected to believe his greatest regret is...that he used "Tough talk"??! And some people wonder if he deserves credit for that?
Let's put it this way. Either that's not truly his greatest regret, or we're in a whole lot more trouble than anyone realizes.
But here's the remarkable thing, amid all the coverage of the President finally admitting a mistake - he didn't even admit making a mistake!
Just read his answer. What the President only noted about saying "Bring it on" was - "that sent the wrong signal to people," adding "I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted."
Now, if you asked someone for an apology, would you accept that? You'd probably stand there stamping your foot and say, "I'm waiting." The President isn't admitting he made a mistake. He's blaming other people for making the mistake, misinterpreting him.
But it's more than that.
The President's answer doesn't acknowledge the slightest regret, which was the question. He simply says, "I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner."
Yipes, he sounds like a Very Special Episode of "Blossom." Or a segment of "Sesame Street." Okay, kids, here's what we learned today. The Letter "P." Don't spread rumors in gym class about your ex-boyfriend. And speak properly.
He was asked what he regretted. Not what nifty thing he learned.
Well, okay, you shout, at least he gets points for finally responding forthrightly about Abu Ghraib.
No. He doesn't. Because he didn't.
Intentionally. And this was all intentional. If you don't think the White House doesn't now anticipate this question at every single press conference, and doesn't have the answer so carefully prepared, down to Mr. Bush's mournful sigh, then you have your iPod turned up too loud and it's fried your synapses
Again. The question was about "which missteps and mistakes of your own you most regret?" Your own.
And the President pointed the finger at others - them, they, other people.
Read his words. He says about Abu Ghraib, "the people who committed those acts were brought to justice; they've been given a fair trial and tried and convicted."
Now, if the question had been, "Mr. President, what actions of other people do you wish they hadn't done?", then, bingo, he'd have had one whiz-bang of a fine answer. (Providing one could separate the action from Administration policy.)
Unfortunately, the question was about his "own" mistakes. And he blamed others. As always. Intentionally.
On Thursday, the President did not acknowledge a mistake - just that others misinterpreted him. He didn't admit regretting anything - just that he learned to speak "in a more sophisticated manner." And he didn't concede any involvement in the only mistake he even mentioned - that was someone else's doing, and they were convicted for it.
That's how low the Administration has sunk: this is what its supporters think counts as the President making a positive step. Then again, when you're standing in the abyss, any direction seems up.
In the end, from all of this, it turns out that the one thing President Bush has learned the most from the entire Iraq War is - to talk better. If Republicans and the press would like the world to give bonus points to George Bush for that amazing revelation, such points do not exist.
Follow Robert J. Elisberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RobertElisberg