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A Question (or Two), Mr. President


President Bush gave the second in a series of speeches on Iraq today. His venue: the Council on Foreign Relations. NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr says Mr. Bush was taking a page from the playbook of his predecessor.


On September 14th, 1998, President Clinton, facing impeachment for lying about a sexual affair, became the first incumbent president to address the venerable Council on Foreign Relations. His subject was the international economic crisis. The White House had specified that contrary to council tradition, there would be no discussion, no questions after the speech on any subject.

Today, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flies around Europe juggling questions about outsourced American prisons for suspected terrorists, President Bush addressed the council at a Washington hotel, one of a series of four speeches leading up to the Iraqi parliamentary election on December 15th; the first of the speeches to an audience in civilian clothes. Today's speech concentrated on the economy of Iraq and its reconstruction. The president spoke of a hopeful future for Iraq and the return to the world economy. The White House had specified no questions, no discussion. In protest, several council members boycotted the event.

The president was introduced by council President Richard Haass, who had come to the council in 2003 from the Bush State Department. I asked Haass at a reception last night about the departure from the council's tradition of colloquy with those who address it. He said he had tried strenuously to get the White House to lift the ban on discussion, but in the end concluded that a president on any terms was better than no president.

And so the president made optimistic statements about the future of Iraq and the improved training of Iraqi soldiers and police. If questions had been allowed, well, there might have been one on the 36 police academy trainees killed in Baghdad yesterday, maybe one on what happens if the trial of Saddam Hussein bogs down. But one can hope there will still be opportunities to question the president. This is Daniel Schorr.

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Schorr
Daniel Schorr passed away on Friday, July 23, 2010. See an obituary, photo gallery and an archive of Schorr's commentaries for NPR.