Bush’s baffling body language

By Dan Streib

The markets and pundits both seem to have been repeatedly asking one thing the past couple of weeks: Are we going to war with Iran? Those who want war say yes, and those who do not want war but doubt the president’s sanity will also say yes. But reality tells a different tale.

Take this from New York Times columnist David Brooks when he made his weekly appearance on PBS’ “Newshour with Jim Lehrer” last Friday: “But unless I totally misread (the president), I think he has no inclination to launch a military action.” It just so happens that Mr. Brooks had an excellent opportunity to read the president because he happens to be a part of a select group of columnists that the president meets with on a regular basis.

As a group, these conservative columnists had their first meeting with the president on July 13, and since that date they have been having meetings with great frequency in what seems to be a smart move by the president to rally his base during hard times.

On the Newshour program last Friday, Brooks explains that some of the meetings are indeed off the record. But Brooks continues to describe his impression of the president’s intentions and does so by focusing on the president’s body language.

He states that Bush appears to be a man “that’s totally different than before Iraq. He is preparing the way for the next administration to have some means to deal with the situation (in Iran).”

Taking a hard line and ramping up the diplomatic pressure and rhetoric against the outlaw regime is obviously the president’s way of doing so.

And Brooks seems to think that is a reasonable response. He cites Iran’s interference in Iraq, alignment with Russia and Iran’s repeated flaunting of its ability to violate U.N. resolutions with little consequence.

Now with Bush’s World War III remarks a couple of weeks ago and his persistently harsh rhetoric against Iran, one can easily scoff at Mr. Brooks when he emphasizes the president’s body language.

But Brooks should not be so quickly discounted.

Not only is he a columnist of high repute, but such a personal and intimate meeting with President Bush — who is always rather secretive – is an experience most people do not get to have.

This alone means that we should take the insights of a man who has had this experience quite seriously. And Brooks obviously thinks that the inside look he receives on the president’s thought process is rather unique given his comment that Bush “…should give more interviews.”

Yet many people who have only Bush’s actions and his words to judge him by easily come to a different impression about his intentions than Brooks does.

Yet this conflict between insider and outsider perceptions of the president seems to be representative of the conduct of the Bush administration as a whole.

Those with inside information have always seen an intelligent, capable, well-informed, nuanced and charming president.

Those without such insight get a remarkably different impression. They see numerous verbal slip-ups in front of the press, a lack of charm and a lack of care – a lack of care about those who oppose his ideas, those from other parties and even people of other countries.

Is this lack of care reasonable?

Many say it is not, because they think that a president should be open to alternative viewpoints on issues if he is properly able to lead this country.

But any leader has to stay true to what he or she believes in, because if they do not, they cannot lead. And any leader also must have a thick skin.

Bush has these latter two qualities in spades even if he is lacking in the first.

And his handling of Iran and consultation with columnists of a similar ideological persuasion are perfect examples of his leadership style.

So as the president nears his final year in office, those intent on judging his future historical legacy would do well to not lose sight of the fact that Bush’s second term is not over.

Going with that premise, it would be smart to keep a close watch on unfolding events such as the Iranian situation, because it is in these events that we still get to experience first hand what kind legacy Bush will leave.