Tonight, the first part of Bill O'Reilly's exclusive interview with President Bush was aired with two more segments to follow this week. So how well did Bush stack up against the pressure? Just how good was O'Reilly's delivery?
The president handled himself rather well during the first part of the interview, but it wasn't necessarily a tough chat. With O'Reilly asking hard questions with no follow-ups, Mr. Bush was able to get away with any reply and not face a rebuttal. Let's look at some excerpts from the interview. Note that this is only a partial transcript as I'm only covering the highlights. The complete text can be found at the FOX News web site.
For more resources and information on the interviews, including fan/hate mail, please head over to Aggressive-Voice Daily, my continually updated blog and supplement to the main site.
O’REILLY: Um, the first one (question) is, according to a poll taken by the Coalition Authority last spring, only five percent of the Iraqi people see the United States as liberators. Are you surprised they don’t appreciate the American sacrifice more?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I, I think they're beginning to, appreciate the sacrifice, because the country is getting better. It’s tougher than heck right now, because Zarqawi and some of these former Baathists are killing innocent Iraqis and killing our soldiers in order to try to get us to leave. Um, I also saw a poll where it said by far the vast majority of the Iraqis believe the world is getting better. And that's positive…
O'Reilly never asks for the source of the poll and fails to address the Iraqi casualties on the part of the Americans. While it's not a pretty subject, some of the figures are staggering and it would be interesting to hear the president's reply.
PRESIDENT BUSH: In other words, people are beginning to see progress. Electricity is better, schools are opening, hospitals are running. Um, I think when it’s all said and done, the Iraqis are going to look back and say thank God for America.
O’REILLY: What happened to Saddam’s chemical arsenal, do you know?
PRESIDENT BUSH: No. I don’t. We thought we’d have stockpiles, uh, we do know he had the capability of making weapons. And that capability could have been passed on to terrorists, and that was a risk, after 9/11, we could not afford to take.
O’REILLY: No I understand that. But you, to this day, don’t know what happened to his chemical weapons. He didn't tell us, and, and…
PRESIDENT BUSH: No. Not yet.
At this point O'Reilly could have pressed Mr. Bush on the certainty his administration expressed on the chemical weapons they were so sure Saddam Hussein had. We know O'Reilly has defended Bush on this point many times but it would have been preferable to hear it from the president's mouth.
O’REILLY: “The Wall Street Journal” says, and that's a conservative paper, that uh, the Defense Department and the Pentagon wasn’t aggressive enough in getting al-Sadr and then crushing Fallujah.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah.
O’REILLY: Is the “Journal” wrong?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I, I think this uh, I think that the, government of Iraq, Allawi, did a good job in Najaf with Sadr. In other words, they now control the shrines, and they did so in a way that he, Allawi, thought would be best for the political process. In other words, there's a dual track here. There's a political process going forward, and a security operation going forward. And the two must be parallel, and uh, Allawi made the decision that the best operation in Najaf uh would be to, the way we handled it, and uh, if they're saying that maybe last fall we should have moved on Sadr, it’s a judgment call that you know, history will have to look back on.
At this point Mr. O'Reilly had the perfect opportunity to question the decision again by recalling the horrible deaths that six contract workers suffered at the hands of Sadr's forces. Why isn't there any accountability here?
O’REILLY: The mission accomplished statement in May 2003, if you had to do it all over again, would you not have done it?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Uh, well first of all, the statement said, Thank you for be, serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, thank you for being on one of the largest, longest cruises in our nation’s history. Thank you for serving our country, and we’ve still got tough work in Iraq. Now I’m, I’m going to go and thank our troops every chance I get.
O’REILLY: Would you do it again?
PRESIDENT BUSH: You mean have the sign up there?
O’REILLY: No, no, but go in there with the flight jacket…
PRESIDENT BUSH: Absolutely.
O’REILLY: You would.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Of course. I’m saying to the troops, on this carrier and elsewhere, thanks for serving America. Absolutely.
While President Bush may have never touted the words: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, he did declare "an end to major combat" which later turned out to be incorrect as more soldiers have died in Iraq since the publicity stunt than before it.
I understand it's important to be courteous when talking to the commander in chief, but O'Reilly could have squeezed the president a little more on the questions we'll most likely never hear answered. A lot of moderates and the undecided are still mulling over the decision and I don't believe the first part of the interview won or lost any votes for President Bush. We'll have to wait and see how the other parts of the interview turn out.