Function: transitive verb
Definition: A: to refuse to accept; especially, to reject as unauthorized or as having no binding force (repudiate a contract) B: to reject as untrue or unjust (repudiate a charge)
- Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary
The preceding definition is provided as a service to the White House. When it comes to repudiation, the administration apparently does not know the meaning of the word.
This seems the only reasonable conclusion after spokesman Tony Snow's response to the question of whether last week's report from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group is a repudiation of administration policy toward Iraq. In a sometimes testy exchange with White House reporters, Mr. Snow denied that the report is a rejection of President Bush's "stay the course" policies in Iraq. Mainly, he says, because the president has no such policy.
The fig leaf of truth behind which Mr. Snow hides: The White House jettisoned "stay the course" a whole month and a half ago. Of course, that would be 2 1/2 years after most of us concluded that staying the course was a shortcut to disaster. For most of that time, the White House has argued against that blindingly obvious truth. Now, the conclusion that was long ago reached by everyday truckers, teachers, preachers and pundits - we have to change what we're doing because what we're doing has not worked - has been verified and validated by an august group of Democrats and Republicans led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Indiana Congressman Lee H. Hamilton.
And their report takes some pointed jabs. For instance, it cautions, "Our leaders must be candid and forthright with the American people in order to win their support." Who do you think they're implying has not been candid and forthright before now?
The report asks for a debate that offers "substance over rhetoric." And who do you suppose they're inferring has shoveled out exactly the opposite?
The report calls the Iraqi situation "grave and deteriorating." Bonus points if you can name the president who has previously decried such "pessimistic predictions."
And note: We haven't even gotten to the report's call for substantive changes in U.S. policy toward Iraq. All that's not a repudiation? No, said Mr. Snow. "It's an acknowledgment of reality."
Maybe we should be happy with that. After all, even acknowledging reality is something this administration has always been loath to do. Remember President Bush's famously offhand dismissal of a 2004 intelligence community report predicting continued instability and a possibility of civil war? They were "just guessing," said the president.
So maybe we ought not disparage the importance of even a small concession from this crew. On the other hand, it's hard to be sanguine as they weasel past the larger concession on technicalities.
This tendency to weasel is emblematic of the administration's signature failing: a lack of respect bordering on scorn for objective fact and verifiable truth.
Which is why we find ourselves suffering the results of a faith-based foreign policy where decisions are based not on a hard-headed reading of pertinent facts but on the presidential gut - on what George W. wants to be true. It is no coincidence that observers have dubbed the ISG report the "return of the realists" - an allusion to the fact that realists have been in short supply.
The question now is, will the president listen to them?
At a news conference Thursday, Mr. Bush noted that in Washington, many reports are issued and simply gather dust, unread. But not the ISG report, he said. "To show you how important this one is, I read it ..."
Thank heaven for small favors, I suppose.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun.
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