Another Duel In Credibility Gulch

President Bush speaks about the war on terror during a stop at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, Monday, Nov. 14, 2005. Bush will continue on to Japan where he will begin his four country Asia tour. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
This commentary was written by's Dick Meyer.
The Bush administration has again come after its captors with guns blazing in a daring attempt to escape from Credibility Gulch, a dangerous place for a president to get trapped. Even so, the escape plan may be backfiring.

Bush's escape strategy is in the form of a political campaign. Why now? Perhaps because now is when his approval ratings are at the lowest point of his presidency. Perhaps because his party just lost gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey and a docket of referenda in California. Perhaps because a recent Wall Street Journal/NBS News poll found that 57 percent think the president "deliberately misled people to make the case for war."

He launched the getaway caper on Veteran's Day in Pennsylvania in a speechthat restated, quite clearly, his rationale for the war on terror while swooping down to take on his critics. Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, ran a simultaneous maneuver from the right. And then the president essentially repeated his speech this week on his way to Asia.

Here is the part of the president's response to his critics (and not just the Democratic ones) that made them so ornery so fast:

"The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges. These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will. As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them."

The 'demoralizing our boys and comforting the enemy' line is a last ditch, McCarthy-lite gambit that doesn't work in this country. Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon used it to fill their credibility gaps, without success. It was cheap and cowardly then and it still is now.

Furthermore, it's not crystal clear who exactly the "ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life" is. Is it the Sunnis blowing up the Shiites in Iraq? Or the Shiites blowing up the Sunnis? Or is it the Shiites and the Sunnis when they are blowing up Americans? Or Jordanians blowing up Jordanians? Or is it the prisoners in secret CIA prison camps?

Who exactly are these people getting the wrong message and encouragement from the speeches of Harry Reid, John McCain and Chuck Hagel? (Here's Hagel on the administration's new counter-offensive: "The Bush Administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and should not be demonized for disagreeing with them.")

The administration is especially perturbed that some critics still believe the case it made for war lacked integrity and still want a proper investigation into the policy uses of pre-war intelligence.

Here's the RNC's Mehlman from his Veteran's Day speech: "Amazingly these same Democrats who looked at the same intelligence as the President and came to the same conclusions now want an investigation. Maybe this investigation will reveal that they were brainwashed."

The president thinks there's been more than enough investigation: "While it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began. Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs."