President Bush is so convinced that he’s got the right policy in Iraq — and that it can succeed — that he rejects pleas from Capitol Hill moderates for a declared change of mission.
In an interview with a group of columnists that I attended Wednesday, he dismissed the notion of establishing the 2006 recommendations of the Iraq Study Group as official U.S. policy even though its advocates think it’s a lot like his policy and could bind the country together.
“My attitude is, I accept what [U.S. Iraq commander] Gen. [David] Petraeus recommended, not what they recommend,” he said, referring to Members of Congress pushing the ISG approach, which includes moving U.S. troops from a combat role to one of “overwatch.”
Both Petraeus and Bush said last week that they envision a “transition” of mission toward “overwatch” — Bush said, beginning in December — but the president evidently wants to have a firm grip on the pace of change, even if it means missing an opportunity for achieving a consensus on Capitol Hill.
In addition to lengthy comments on Iraq policy, Bush said he was “incredulous, and then mad” about last week’s MoveOn.org ad branding Petraeus “Gen. Betray Us” and said he took it as “an attack on our troops.”
“I expected people on Capitol Hill to say this was wrong,” he said. “I didn’t hear many,” obviously meaning Democrats.
“That ad was uncalled for,” he said. “And also the silence.”
In a 90-minute session in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, Bush also set the stage for veto battles over the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and possible tax increases and budget bills and waxed philosophical about what Americans should look for in a president.
“He should be comfortable with his family,” Bush said. “Should be somebody who’ll work hard to make sure there’s love in the White House, have a vision for the world and principles by which they’d make decisions.
“I would suggest they look for somebody who doesn’t worry about current public opinion polls — that’s like a dog chasing its tail. I’d look for someone who’ll enjoy this job. You can either be miserable in this job or joyous. I find it a joy.”
If that’s true — and Bush told us he was “upbeat about life” — he actually seemed more determined than euphoric in this session. He asserted that he was sustained by the conviction that soldiers in Iraq and their commanders believe in the mission there as much as he does.
He said, “I asked Gen. Petraeus, ‘Can we succeed? If not, let’s not continue. I am not going to look a mother in the eye who’s lost her son and tell her something that’s not true.’ He said we could.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.