Reminiscent of the Hitchcock series, “Stories My Mother Never Told Me”, news conferences, whether featuring the President or other high officials, suggest a similar headline: “Questions Our Reporters Never Ask”. Soon after 9/11, I wrote an article called Postcards to the President“, a plausible set of responses from ordinary citizens around the world following the tragedy. Today the situation is far more gothic, in no small measure because Congress and the press, which should be asking questions, have voluntarily effaced themselves into pliant cheerleaders and sturdy stenographers, instead of providing the adversarial balance so essential to keeping the executive honest.
After being dismayed by the tameness (…and lameness…and sameness) of the few presidential news conferences Mr. Bush has held, I’ve often wondered why some obvious questions are never asked. I concluded, finally, that it was because the press was at a disadvantage. The president has people preparing his ‘talking points’., whereas the press is all on its own; handicapped without a set of corresponding ‘asking points’. So here goes, ladies and gentlemen of the press (and you too, Mr. Woodward), the following question bank is all yours:
1. Mr. President, what exactly was the connection between Iraq and 9-11?
2. Mr. President, you are a religious believer, and by implication, a God-fearing man. What, in your view, is the moral code that permits attacking a country which did not attack us?
3. Mr. President, you launched the Iraq War on the claim that there were deadly weapons of mass destruction stockpiled there. Now that that reason has been proven to be false, what compensation do you think the United States owes Iraq for the damage that has been caused in lives and property to that country?
4. Mr. President, you have often claimed, in recent months, that you will withdraw US troops as soon as an Iraqi army is readied. Since armies are usually raised to defend against foreign countries rather than fighting their own citizens, which foreign countries do you think Iraq will need to fight or defend against when such an army becomes available?
5. Mr. President, one of the reasons for your invading Iraq was that it had a powerful army that menaced its neighbors. Now you say that it has no army, and that is the problem. By definition, now that Iraq has been ‘disarmed’, has our mission not been accomplished?
6. Mr. President, before the war, the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein kept denying that there were any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, while you and your colleagues asserted that there were. From what we now know, on this specific matter, it appears that Saddam Hussein was telling the truth, while you and your colleagues were mistaken in your beliefs. Do you think you owe the country and the world an apology for your mistake? Specifically, the Defense Secretary said he knew exactly where these weapons were, and the Vice President said there was no doubt that Saddam now had weapons of mass destruction. What is your standard of accuracy in your administration, and what is the penalty when officials are so casually wrong on matters of such seriousness?
7. Mr. President, do you think that Iran and North Korea, countries that were not weakened by a decade-long sanctions regime, are in your estimation a greater threat than Iraq was in terms of potentially developing nuclear weapons? If so, why did you choose to focus on Iraq rather than these countries?
8. Mr. President, if Islamic fundamentalism is the foremost enemy of America, as you have frequently said, can you explain why it was in our strategic interest to destabilize one of the few regimes in the Middle East that was, whatever its other problems, a secular country, with rights for women, and in most respects far more modern and westernized than many of its neighbors?
9. Mr. President, your administration has often defended the invasion of Iraq even after it was evident that there were no weapons of mass destruction there, stating that that the objective was to bring democracy to Iraq and the greater Middle East. Can explain to the American people exactly when this objective changed from that of disarming Iraq to that of spreading democracy?
10. Mr. President, you often cite the vote in Congress for the Iraq War Resolution as an authorization of the invasion of Iraq. Given that the resolution was passed in the context of the WMD threat, and not on the matter of bringing democracy to Iraq and spreading it to the Middle East, is it fair to say that any such authorization ended the moment no weapons were found, and that the current war is without Congress authority?
11. Mr. President, if the Iraqi elections bring forth a government that is Islamic, anti-American and pro-Iranian in character, as seems likely, will the United States accept the legitimacy of such a government? Already in Southern Iraq, Sharia law has been imposed in many parts, according to reports. How does this correspond with your stated desire to democratize Iraq?
12. Mr. President, some US government officials now admit, after initially denying it, that White Phosphorus was used in the Battle of Fallujah. Do you accept responsibility for its use, as Commander-in-Chief. If so, can you tell the American people what steps you are taking to punish the people who used it, given that its use by Saddam Hussein’s forces was condemned by our own reports during the ’80’s?
NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a writer living on the West Coast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org