Snared by The Google


UNLIKE HIS DAD, whose apparent befuddlement over a supermarket checkout scanner helped lose him the presidency, George W. Bush is one tech-savvy guy. He told CNBC this week that he sometimes goes “on the Google ... to pull up maps like, I kinda like to look at the ranch. It remind me of where I wanna be sometimes.”

Who can fault Bush for wishing to be back at the ranch? He’s had a rotten week -- and it’s partly thanks to The Google.

As the president discovered this week, The Google -- along with The Yahoo, The AltaVista and all the other Internet search engines -- have made it infinitely harder for politicians to contradict themselves without getting caught.


It started on Sunday. On ABC-TV’s “This Week,” Bush insisted to George Stephanopoulos that when it comes to Iraq policy, “we’ve never been ‘stay the course,’ George!” Stephanopoulos looked astonished by this, since it’s not exactly a state secret that Bush has promised to “stay the course” in Iraq on about 10,000 separate occasions.

OK, I exaggerate, but he’s definitely promised to “stay the course” on at least several dozen occasions, a fact that you and I and a million bloggers can prove in about three seconds flat ... thanks to The Google. Try it! On the White House website, plug “stay the course” into the search toolbar. I got 181 hits. Gotcha, W! The Google comes back to bite you!

But let’s be fair. At least two or three of the White House references to “stay the course” have come in the context of this week’s White House denials that anyone in the administration ever suggested that staying the course was a good idea. With the midterm elections only 10 days away, the Rovean masterminds on Pennsylvania Avenue have decided to cut and run from “stay the course.”

Instead, we’re now going to be “constantly adjusting to tactics. Constantly,” Bush explained to Stephanopoulos. That’s because -- as White House spokesman Tony Snow admitted in a rare moment of candor -- the phrase “stay the course” sort of “left the wrong impression.” Specifically, it left the impression that the administration wasn’t facing reality.

Judging from the last few days, “constantly adjusting” is a new euphemism for “coming completely unglued,” a phrase that lately seems to characterize both the administration’s message machine and its failed Iraq strategy. On Monday, White House counselor Dan Bartlett was dutifully telling CNN that “it’s never been a stay-the-course strategy”; but on Tuesday, when talk show host Sean Hannity asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld if Bush was “backing away from staying the course,” Rumsfeld responded tartly, “That’s nonsense.... Of course not.”

Who’s in charge over there?

To find more evidence of the administration’s ... constant adjustments, Google away and have a good giggle. We might as well enjoy this latest Washington farce because, after all, if we don’t get a good chuckle out of the White House’s desperate flailing around on Iraq, who will?


Not the Iraqis, that’s for sure. Apparently, the Iraqis now consider the Bush administration’s Iraq policies so very unfunny that in a September poll, 61% of them say they “approve” of attacks on U.S.-led forces.

This tends to make things kind of unfunny for the U.S. troops on the ground too. October has been the deadliest for U.S. troops in Iraq since January 2005: 96 have been killed so far this month, and 2,809 have been killed and 44,779 wounded since the war began. It’s a good thing our troops have The Google over there -- like Bush, they can use Google maps to recall how their hometowns look and wonder if they’re going to make it back before this administration sends them on any more misconceived missions.

Do the Democrats have a better strategy for “winning” in Iraq? No, they don’t -- because with so many thousands dead, and so many thousands more embittered, “winning” isn’t really on the table anymore. The only question now is whether we can mitigate the damage.

There’s only one way to do that. As Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the Army’s 1st Infantry Division in Iraq until 2005, put it, “The best thing that can happen right now is for one or both of our houses to go Democratic so we can have some oversight.” Batiste -- a “lifelong Republican” -- now insists that “it is time for a change.”

When it comes to Iraq, being a citizen in George W. Bush’s America is like being a passenger in a car driven by a drunk driver. Drunk on power, the administration has spent years driving resolutely into brick walls. To compensate, they’ve now adopted a policy of swerving all over the place.

It’s time to take away the car keys.