For speechwriters, a harrowing account of a high-stakes screwup

An excerpt of a Vanity Fair excerpt of the new book 500 Days, about the Bush Administration’s push to go to war in Iraq shows President Bush at the United Nations giving a major address. He finds a critical sentence missing:

The words continued to scroll by on the teleprompter mirrors. Bush was reaching the critical point, where he would declare his commitment to a renewed U.N. diplomatic effort to disarm Iraq.

“My nation will work with the U.N. Security Council to meet our common challenge,” Bush said. “If Iraq’s regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively to hold Iraq to account.


He glanced at the teleprompter, looking for the phrase calling for a new resolution.

It wasn’t there.

But the purposes of the United States should not be doubted.

That was the next sentence on the teleprompter-an attestation to the country’s might and willpower. There was nothing about diplomacy. The words that had been the subject of such great debate had simply disappeared.

Bush took a breath. And then he winged it.

“We will work with the U.N. Security Council for the necessary resolutions…” he began.

Resolutions? That’s odd, [UK to US Ambassador] Meyer thought.

He was flummoxed by Bush’s use of the plural. Blair had been pushing for two resolutions, of course, but Bush had always demurred. Now, after all the fighting over whether to accept even one, the President announced he would go for two? Without warning?

It was almost as if Bush had reached his decision at the last second. Meyer had no way of knowing that he had just witnessed the President of the United States announce what seemed to be a major international initiative by mistake, owing to a technical flub.

Slips of the tongue don’t establish national security policy, and so the calls went out quickly to inform allies that the President had misspoken. He wanted one resolution, not two.

Rice delivered the message to the Blair government in a phone call to David Manning. There had been a slip-up, she explained, and Bush had gone farther in his statements than he had intended.

”We gave the President the wrong text,” she said. “He was ad-libbing.”

Hat tip to Vital Speeches correspondent Pete Weissman, who passed this item along.

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