The President of the United States made a big speech last week. Judging by how the nation’s top news agency played it, it must not have been terribly important.
More blah blah blah from whatshisname. What was important was that Congress held another of its serial votes to end the war in Iraq.
It may seem silly to virtually ignore the words of the commander-in-chief, who is actually running the war, while focusing intently on the impotent actions of a body whose leadership is engaged in a political version of Groundhog Day.
However, formulating the news is not as easy as it seems, and many complex calculations are necessary. Contrary to popular misconception, reportology does draw heavily on both rocket science and brain surgery. There are many disciplines applied in the sequencing of the daily news genome. Today, we’ll go into the lab to study how its done! You, the reader, will be asked to test your skills against highly trained professional news technicians as they question the President of the United States. The President’s actual answers have been omitted because, as we have learned, they really aren’t important:
THE PRESIDENT: And now I’ll be glad to answer a few questions, starting with Ms. Thomas.
QUESTION: Mr. President, you started this war, a war of your choosing, and you can end it alone, today, at this point — bring in peacekeepers, U.N. peacekeepers. Two million Iraqis have fled their country as refugees. Two million more are displaced. Thousands and thousands are dead. Don’t you understand, you brought the al Qaeda into Iraq.
1. All scientific investigations must start with a hypothesis. Identify the factual errors and erroneous assumptions in this one. (The fact that it is not actually a question but an editorial statement doesn’t count.)
THE PRESIDENT: Terry.
Q: Mr. President, you’re facing a rebellion from Republican — key Republican senators who want you to change course and begin reducing the U.S. combat role. Given the mixed report that you present today, how do you persuade Republicans to stick with you as they look ahead to the next elections?
2. Fuzzy math: If the United States is out of Iraq by April of 2008, will it be Year Zero by November? Please show your work.
THE PRESIDENT: Toby.
Q: Mr. President, in addition to members of your own party, the American public is clamoring for a change of course in Iraq. Why are you so resistant to that idea, and how much longer are you willing to give the surge to work before considering a change in this policy?
3. Demostrate your knowledge of clamorurgy. What constitutes a clamor and have you, as a member of the public, heard one? Is it necessary for large numbers of Americans to actually make an audible noise, or is it sufficient for pollsters determine that Americans don’t like war and wish it wasn’t happening? Also, if polling shows more support for the war and the president than Congress, what kind of clamor is that? Bonus question: If a poll gets axed in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a clamor?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, Martha.
Q: You talk about all the troops now being in place, and only in place the last three weeks or a month. Yet three-quarters of the troops for the surge were in place during the period when this July interim report was written. Are you willing to keep the surge going, no matter what General Petraeus says, if there is no substantial Iraqi political progress by September?
4. In 20 words or fewer, what level of knowledge of military affairs and Iraqi politics and the relationship between the two does this question suggest? What is the likelihood “Martha” is familiar with (a) the term “counterinsurgency” and (b) its application in Iraq? Bonus question, what do you think “Martha” perceives the word “surge” to mean? Let’s listen in to the answer for a minute:
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. You’re asking me to speculate on what my frame of mind will be in September …
Q But there has been no substantial political progress, even with three-quarters of the troops in there.
5. Yes, we heard, “Martha.” But she raises an important point. Political science: If the presence of three-quarters of the troops should prompt substantial political progress, how much political progress would, say, a 1 3/4 troop presence prompt? Conversely, if all troops are removed, for a 1/0 troop presence, what might be the reasonable expectation of political progress?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, Jim.
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. A question for you about the process you’re describing of your decision-making as Commander-in-Chief. Have you entertained the idea that at some point Congress may take some of that sole decision-making power away, through legislation? And can you tell us, are you still committed to vetoing any troop withdrawal deadline?
6. If an airplane takes off in Albany going 435 miles per hour, and a tractor-trailer loaded with hogs is parked at a truck stop in Toledo, going 0 miles an hour, which one will arrive at La Guardia Airport first? Again, the answer is instructive:
THE PRESIDENT: You mean in this interim period? Yes. I don’t think Congress ought to be running the war …
Q: So if Reed-Levin or anything like it were to pass and set a …
7. Please describe circumstances under which a stationary truck full of pigs might become an airborne conveyance.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I would hope they wouldn’t pass, Jim. But I …
Q: But what if they’ve got …
8. Jackknifing off an icy overpass doesn’t count.
THE PRESIDENT: David.
Q: Mr. President, you’ve said many times this war at this stage is about the Iraqi government creating a self-sustaining, stable government. Last November, your own CIA Director, according to The Washington Post, told you about that government: “The inability of the government to govern seems irreversible. He could not point to any milestone or checkpoint where we can turn this thing around.” And he said, in talking about the government, that it’s balanced, but it cannot function.
9. Physics: An object not in motion will remain stationary as long as an object of equal and opposite force is unable to get out of the way. True or false?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q: When you heard that, since that point, you think of how many hundreds of soldiers have been killed, how much money has been spent. Why shouldn’t people conclude that you are either stubborn, in denial, but certainly not realistic about the strategy that you’ve pursued since then?
10. We’ll delve into classical philosophy to address a new variation of the when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife codicil to the old chicken-egg problem: If people died, Bush must have lied. In 20 words or fewer, please discuss how many pinheads can dance in the newly renovated White House pressroom.
Q: But you think you’ve been realistic about the strategy and what’s possible?
11. Telekinetic semantics! Quick, what word uttered by the president in response to this question would have the effect of defying gravity itself, allowing the president in Washington to cause that hypothetical pig truck in Schenectady to take wing?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, ma’am.
Q: But, sir, on that point, what evidence can you present to the American people that the people who attacked the United States on September the 11th are, in fact, the same people who are responsible for the bombings taking place in Iraq? What evidence can you present? And also, are you saying, sir, that al Qaeda in Iraq is the same organization being run by Osama bin Laden, himself?
12. I’m sorry, ma’am, but we’ve already addressed the “lied, died” thing.ÔøΩPlease stay after class for remedial histrionics.
THE PRESIDENT:Let’s see here. Working my way around here. Sheryl.
Q: Mr. President, in Jordan in November, you stood by Prime Minister Maliki and said he’s the right guy for Iraq. Given this report card today and given the lack of top-down political reconciliation, can you tell the American people that you still believe he’s the right guy for Iraq?
13. In 20 words or fewer, compare and contrast the progress of the Democrtaic leadership of the United States Congress with that of the al-Maliki coalition in Iraq. Please bear in mind that one claims a mandate of the people and represents a stable and prosperous democracy, while the other presides over a shaky coalition, representing a psychologically and politically traumatized multi-ethnic basketcase. Grade on a curve.
Q: Do you have confidence in them (al-Maliki, Talabani, al-Mahdi and Hashimi)?
14. Quick current events review: Which tragically unhinged Gold Star mother is challenging Nancy Pelosi?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, sir.
Q: If I could just switch subjects for a second to another big decision you made recently, which was in the Scooter Libby case.
15. Legal theory: Please identify the underlying crime in the abovementioned case and who was charged with it.
Q: You spoke very soberly and seriously in your statement about how you weighed different legal questions in coming to your decision on that commutation. But one issue that you did not address was the issue of the morality of your most senior advisors leaking the name of a confidential intelligence operator. Now that the case is over — it’s not something you’ve ever spoken to — can you say whether you’re at all disappointed in the behavior of those senior advisors? And have you communicated that disappointment to them in any way?
16. Veterinary science: If the death of a horse is no barrier to beating it, how much work might realistically be coerced from said deceased quadruped thusly?
THE PRESIDENT: Wendell.
Q: Mr. President, you have spoken passionately —
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I’m sorry.
Q: Are you taking it away from me?
17. Romance literature: Please discuss the role of passion in politicology, and whether there are any circusmatnces under which it is appropriate for the President of the United States to rip the bodice of the American people.
THE PRESIDENT: I am …
Q After doing the “fair and balanced,” you’re going to take it away … (laughter.)
18. Ha ha ha! Physics: an object that is both balanced and fair has the capacity to unhinge people. Please describe circumstances under which this might occur.
Q Ohhh. (Laughter.)
Q You’re going to come back to me, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: You got the mic — a possession deal, you know what I’m saying? (Laughter.)
Q Thank you, sir. You have spoken passionately about the consequences of failure in Iraq. Your critics say you failed to send enough troops there at the start, failed to keep al Qaeda from stepping into the void created by the collapse of Saddam’s army, failed to put enough pressure on Iraq’s government to make the political reconciliation necessary to keep the sectarian violence the country is suffering from now from occurring. So why should the American people feel you have the vision for victory in Iraq, sir?
19. Is it January 20, 2009 yet?
THE PRESIDENT: Ed … no, John. Just kidding.
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Your administration has cited al Qaeda leaders such as Zawahiri as saying that if we leave prematurely, it would be a glorious victory for al Qaeda. But the reason that we can’t leave or haven’t been able to leave is not because we’re getting defeated in any way militarily, it’s because the Iraqis can’t get it together so far. So why can’t we counter those messages, and obviously not withdraw precipitously, but begin some sort of gradual withdrawal that prevents ethnic cleansing, but also allows our military to get out?
20. You should ethnically cleanse (a) before, (b) after or (c) during all lab work?ÔøΩ Bonus question: To what is genocide preferrable?
THE PRESIDENT: Mark.
Q: Thank you. Thank you, sir. How comfortable are you — sir, how comfortable are you with your Homeland Security Secretary saying, in the face of no credible intelligence of an imminent threat against the United States, that he has a gut feeling that one is coming this summer? And, sir, what does your gut tell you?
21. Epidemiology: A nasty stomach bug is going around. The person in the next cublicle has it. Other children at your kids’ school have it. The checkout lady who keeps coughing on your groceries has it. What is your gut feeling about whether you’re going to get it?
THE PRESIDENT: Ed.
Q: Good morning, Mr. President. Given the events on the ground in Iraq and the politics here at home, has U.S. military deployment to Iraq reached the ceiling, or can you allow any further military escalation?
22.Congress is to Baghdad as Tehran is to ______.
THE PRESIDENT: You’re trying to do what Martha very skillfully tried to get me to do, and that was to —
Q: Can I have a follow-up?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, you can, because you’re about to realize I’m not going to answer your question — (laughter) — except to say this: There’s going to be great temptation to — not “temptation,” you won’t be tempted, you will actually ask me to speculate about what David Petraeus will talk to us about when he comes home … Now, do you have a follow-up, perhaps another subject, another area, another —
Q: Same subject.
THE PRESIDENT: Same question?
Q: Different approach.
THE PRESIDENT: It’s a different approach; yes, good. (Laughter.)
Q: How hard is it for you to conduct the war without popular support? Do you, personally — do you ever have trouble balancing between doing what you think is the right thing and following the will of the majority of the public, which is really the essence of democracy?
23. Pop psychology:ÔøΩWhen someone beats one’s wife, it is (a)the wife’s fault, (b) society’s fault, or (c) Bush lied, people died?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, it is … Thank you all for your time. I loved being here at this new building. Thank you.