Both the president and the secretary of state were addressing the Israel-Lebanon conflict and why they favored peace but not right away.
Rice's session with the press corps on July 21 achieved instant infamy for her interpretation of carnage and mayhem as "the birth pangs of a new Middle East."
Bush's remarks yesterday, from his vacation ranch in Crawford, Texas, with Rice at his side, raise once more the question of whether he believes the things he says—whether he's really so clueless about the world that his actions so deeply affect.
The transcript contains so many mind-boggling statements that it's hard to know where to begin, so let's take them in chronological order.
"Everybody wants the violence to stop," Bush said in answer to the session's first question. But of course this isn't true. If it were, he could have imposed a cease-fire in the first few days. He and Rice explicitly wanted the violence to continue, wanted Israel to pummel Hezbollah, so that when the time was ripe for a settlement, Israel could come to the table with a huge advantage.
Then Bush made a statement that curiously veered off script: "People understand that there needs to be a cessation of hostilities in order for us to address the root causes of the problem." This contradicted Rice's mantra of the last two weeks—that there should be no cessation until these root causes are addressed. Did he understand what he was saying? Everybody skipped over it in any case.
A short while later, a reporter asked why U.S. troops wouldn't participate in the international force that a proposed U.N. resolution envisions for a wide buffer zone along the Israel-Lebanon border. Bush's reply was jaw-dropping:
[I]t's like Darfur. People say to me, 'Well, why don't you commit U.S. troops to Darfur as part of an international peacekeeping?' And the answer there is that the troops would be—would create a sensation around the world that may not enable us to achieve our objective. And so when we commit troops, we commit troops for a specific reason with the intent of achieving an objective. And I think command-and-control and logistical support is probably the best use of U.S. forces.
This cried out for some follow-up questions. Was the president acknowledging that U.S. troops are unwelcome in many parts of the world? Was he saying that command-and-control and logistical support are all that "the sole superpower" can manage in the most Westernized area of the Middle East? Was he making a broad statement about the scope of American military commitments in the future? If not, what did he mean?