By: Greg Mitchell
It appeared, quite innocently and only in passing in The New York Times, five years ago, recording a statement by George W. Bush.
“President Bush today came close to taunting Iraqis who were attacking American-led forces in Iraq and said the assaults would not cause the United States to leave prematurely,” the Times reported on July 2, 2003.
”’There are some who feel like — that the conditions are such that they can attack us there,” Mr. Bush said. ”My answer is, bring them on. We’ve got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.”’
An AP account the following day reported that the official White House transcript of the press gathering had Bush saying “bring them on” but “reporters say the phrase actually sounded like ‘bring ’em on.'”
In any case, the remarks inspired outrage. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., called the president’s language “irresponsible and inciteful.” Sen. John Kerry said they were “unworthy of the office.”
To that point in 2003, 186 Americans had lost their lives in Irag. More than 4000 American military personnel, and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, have died since that date. Nearly 30,000 Americans have been wounded.
In 2006, Bush admitted that this “kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong message to people….I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner, you know…. I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted.”
But the day after “bring ’em on,” White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush was only expressing his faith in the strength and capability of U.S. forces. “The president expressed it, said it, because he views it as a way to express confidence in the forces,” Fleischer told reporters.
Asked then about the missing Iraqi WMD, Bush replied, “It’s just a matter of time, a matter of time.” Fleischer said the burden was on those who had always said there were no WMD — to find out how Saddam had destroyed all of them.
On the day of “bring ’em on” Travis J. Bradachnall, a corporal in the Marines, was killed in an explosion during a mine clearing operation near the city of Karbala.
Greg Mitchell’s new book, the first 5-year history of the war, is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits — and the President — Failed on Iraq.