Maddocks: Despite new finding on his intelligence Bush maintains his hard line against thinking

Philip Maddocks

Defending his credibility, President Bush said yesterday that he had not reconsidered any of his policies or decisions and will continue to act "as if my brain isn’t there" despite a blockbuster intelligence finding that the president’s own intelligence had not been laying dormant over the last four years but indeed had been active "and perhaps even evolving."

Bush said the new conclusion — contradicting earlier U.S. assessments — would not prompt him to "change course" no matter what his brain might tell him. He said he would continue a policy of trying to isolate the organ diplomatically and punish it with sanctions, if it "back talked."

"Look, I was thinking, I am thinking and I will be thinking, but I can’t let that get in the way. Thinking isn’t always tidy," the president told a White House news conference a day after the release of a new national intelligence estimate representing the consensus of all U.S. spy agencies on the state of the president’s intelligence.

On Capitol Hill, congressional Democrats said they hoped the report would have a cooling effect on the administration's rhetoric, which they said was hyped because of lack of thinking and counterproductive to their party’s bid to capture the passion of an unthinking electorate "that they would really like to have a beer with." At a campaign debate in Iowa, seven Democratic presidential candidates stood in agreement that the president should shift his focus and begin listening to what his brain is telling him.

"He should have stopped the saber rattling against that most precious organ, should never have started it," said Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said Bush "should seize this opportunity and his brain." But she also said it was clear that pressure from her had already forced him to act more thoughtfully — a point disputed by rival Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.

Until Monday's report, the administration was unwavering in its conviction that the president’s mind had not evolved in any way since he first included Iran in the so-called axis of evil. Bush said he did not know about the new findings about his intelligence until he was briefed last week — a point challenged by some.

"The president knew, even as he was saying ‘World War III’ and all that kind of stuff," said one member of the Senate intelligence committee. "He knew. He knew, he had been briefed about his intelligence."

Bush drew support from European allies who said the international community found him as unthinking and intellectually disengaged as ever. They said he should not walk away from years of ignoring his often defiant brain, which is openly thinking for uncertain ends.

"He must maintain pressure on his brain," said French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Pascale Andreani.

While U.S. intelligence about his intelligence has changed, Bush showed no inclination to switch course. His intelligence continues to produce tough questions about policies and their possible consequences that could be transferred into secret doubts, he said.

"So, I view this report as a warning signal that I have the intelligence, that I am ignoring it. And the reason why it’s a warning signal is that I could start paying attention to it at any time," the president said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, enroute to Ethiopia for talks with African leaders, said it would be a "big mistake" to for the president to ease diplomatic pressure on his brain.

"I continue to see his intelligence as a dangerous power in international politics," Rice said. "At this moment, it doesn't appear to be active – what I like to describe as weaponized. That frankly is good news. But if it causes people to say, ‘Oh well then we don't need to worry about what his brain is doing,’ I think we will have made a big mistake."

Rice said she would brief Russian officials and others on the issue this week, including during NATO meeting in Brussels.

 "President Bush has lost all credibility with the American people," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. "We were misled on Iraq, now it's his intelligence. We need to get to the truth so our foreign policy is not only tough but smart."

But Bush told the news conference he was not troubled about his stand off with his brain, about perhaps facing a credibility gap with himself. "No, I'm feeling pretty spirited — pretty good about life, pretty unthinking," Bush said.

"Nothing has changed in this NIE that says, ‘Okay, why don't we just stop worrying about it.’ Quite the contrary. I think the NIE makes it clear that I need to be taken seriously as a necessary threat to my intelligence," Bush said. "My opinion hasn't changed."

Philip Maddocks can be reached at pmaddock@cnc.com.