What Mistakes?

GRABEL: President Bush, during the last four years, you have made thousands of decisions that have affected millions of lives. Please give three instances in which you came to realize you had made a wrong decision, and what you did to correct it. Thank you.

BUSH: I have made a lot of decisions, and some of them little, like appointments to boards you never heard of, and some of them big.

And in a war, there’s a lot of — there’s a lot of tactical decisions that historians will look back and say: He shouldn’t have done that. He shouldn’t have made that decision. And I’ll take responsibility for them. I’m human.

But on the big questions, about whether or not we should have gone into Afghanistan, the big question about whether we should have removed somebody in Iraq, I’ll stand by those decisions, because I think they’re right.

BUSH: That’s really what you’re — when they ask about the mistakes, that’s what they’re talking about. They’re trying to say, “Did you make a mistake going into Iraq?” And the answer is, “Absolutely not.” It was the right decision.

The Duelfer report confirmed that decision today, because what Saddam Hussein was doing was trying to get rid of sanctions so he could reconstitute a weapons program. And the biggest threat facing America is terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.

We knew he hated us. We knew he’d been — invaded other countries. We knew he tortured his own people.

On the tax cut, it’s a big decision. I did the right decision. Our recession was one of the shallowest in modern history.

Now, you asked what mistakes. I made some mistakes in appointing people, but I’m not going to name them. I don’t want to hurt their feelings on national TV. (emphasis added)

It’s actually a pretty straightforward question: name 3 mistakes you’ve made, and tell us how you’ve tried to fix them.

Never mind strategy, or political technique, or the subtleties of debate: if Bush truly thought he didn’t make any mistakes, his answer should have been fairly straightforward: “I don’t believe I’ve made any mistakes.”

He then could have gone on to defend what other people view as mistakes, and then explain why they weren’t mistakes, thus defending his original point (I haven’t made any mistakes).

Curiously, that’s not what he says.

Instead of actually coming out and stating that he hasn’t made any mistakes, he addresses the question implicitly. Or vaguely. Or something.

The point is, the person asking the question requested three mistakes.

Bush offered three items.

Since he didn’t state from the get-go that he hasn’t made any mistakes, one reasonable conclusion to draw is that he has made mistakes, and knows it, in one way or another.

Taking this at face value—which, admittedly, is a stretch (bear with me)—there are three things Bush mentions, and defends. He offers three things, and the question asked for three mistakes.

Is it too much to presume that the three things he offers (Afghanistan, Iraq, taxes) were in fact three mistakes he’s made?

Just a thought.

(hat tip to Orcinus for the debate snippet; the whole segment is available at MSNBC)