Thank you, Martha Raddatz

At yesterday's news conference, Martha Raddatz of ABC finally got to ask President Bush directly the question that has been obvious since he first announced his "surge" policy one month ago. Ignore the first sentence of her question and look at what comes after that:

Q Mr. President, do you agree with the National Intelligence Estimate that we are now in a civil war in Iraq? And, also, you talk about victory, that you have to have victory in Iraq; it would be catastrophic if we didn't. You said again today that the enemy would come here, and yet you say it's not an open-ended commitment. How do you square those things?

Of course Bush didn't answer.

He began this way ("You know, victory in Iraq is not going to be like victory in World War II") and never came any closer to dealing with the "how do you square those things?" question she admirably raised. Who knows whether he actually grasped the point she was making. At least she tried.

The press conference marked a turning point for me. For the first time, I actually felt sorry for the President. Every time he returned to his mantra about the Iranian Quds force -- "What we do know is that the Quds force was instrumental in providing these deadly IEDs to networks inside of Iraq" -- and then refused to elaborate or engage further issues, he sounded the way I would if I were forced to appear on live television and deal with hostile questions from a well-informed crowd about something they knew about and I didn't, like opera. I would cling to one sentence -- "What we do know is that La Boheme was one of Puccini's greatest works" -- and refuse to be budged. You could see him seizing opportunities to be "affable," with his painful banter with Mike Allen, ex of the Washington Post, about Allen's new website, and his leaden drollery when asked about the Libby trial and the possibilty of his offering a pardon:

THE PRESIDENT: Not going to talk about it, Peter. (Laughter.) Would you like to think of another question? Being the kind man that I am, I will recycle you. (Laughter.) John.

Q Thank you --

THE PRESIDENT: You like that one? "Recycling" him. (Laughter.)

How much he would prefer just to engage in this kind of bantering. Poor guy. Poor us.