THE attitude, body-language and tone of the President last Thursday night managed to convey in a passive form what many of his aides are thinking in an active fashion.
He looked - to the evident alarm of the TV critics - as if he was becoming dangerously bored with the whole argument about Iraq.
How tedious it is to have to say all of this, in ABC fashion, again. How dull to be compelled to act polite, to reiterate the obvious, and to remember that he is speaking to a global audience as well as a local one.
And yet how satisfying, if one has so often been teased for being stupid, to state a case that has been learned by heart and that hasn't yet been mastered even by one's most show-off fellow pupils.
(Yes teacher, Resolution 1441 means what it says and contains the clauses of its own enforcement. No teacher, we don't assume that we are dealing with Belgium or Luxembourg here. Some presumption of past and future guilt is pardonable when talking of Saddam Hussein)
Then the fatigue that comes from dealing with all the boring questions yet again.
What about the inspectors, the Security Council, the charge of being "unilateralist"?
I have been for regime-change in Iraq for longer than Bush, and sometimes think that I believe in it more than he does, and often wish I could feel his pain and field his questions, but the overlooked and impressive fact is this. Here is a man who has become convinced, fairly slowly, in spite of himself.
HE was elected as one who opposed "nation-building" and was prepared to lift sanctions on Iraq. He now thinks that it's common-sense to realise that Saddam Hussein seeks a confrontation.
He has intelligence reports which will one day be made public, showing that the "inspectors" have been infiltrated by Saddam.
That wanted murderers are hiding in Baghdad, that there are weapons-sites that the Iraqis believe to be secret.
He reads this stuff every day, or has it presented to him.
Then he reads Chancellor Schroeder saying that Germany would not support an intervention even if the Security Council DID vote for it, and President Chirac saying that peace is always preferable to war (unless French interests are involved, in which case their troops crash off the planes into Africa the very next day) and he thinks, what's so bad about being Texan?
Well, at least there's no bullshit involved. I doubt that the President watches the political chat shows but I know some employees of his who do, and it's possible that the last straw came a week or so ago.
That was when the suave Dominique de Villepin said that France's real worry was that "American boys" would get killed in Iraq. There is, after all, a limit to the amount of condescension that can be borne.
President Bush has seen American GIRLS fly tough combat missions over Afghanistan with great success (and what woman would want to parachute down among the Taliban in case of a mishap?) and he's had enough of this hogwash.
He's only going through the motions now.
Meanwhile, hot and dusty winds are starting to tear at American tents in the desert, and the weather that "more time" has bought for Saddam Hussein is going to get (as everybody who asked for "more
AND meanwhile also, the President is being taunted by North Korea, which seems to believe that its possession of genocidal weaponry makes its position more secure.
One can almost hear the gritted-teeth "maybe, baby" response to this, which is couched in diplomatic lingo for now. So is Washington's response to the unexpectedly three-faced attitude of Turkey: a response which would otherwise not be suitable for reproduction in a family newspaper.
Adding to the mounting sense of annoyance is the attitude of the churches.
Bush has to read one day that he is only doing all this because he is a pious Christian (which he has been since long before he thought about Iraq).
He then has to read another day that the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury and most of the pulpits in the land, as well as the fundamentalist Jimmy Carter, are against him on Christian grounds.
More and more it seems that he could not be more despised or mocked if he actually did what he has so far only threatened to do.
Who really believes that France would have stuck by his side if he had only endorsed the Kyoto accord on global warming, or that Berlin would have been batting its lashes at him if he had signed up to the International Criminal Court?
Not even Bill Clinton could persuade the US Senate to endorse either proposal, so what's to lose here?
And there'd never have been a UN to begin with if the US and the UK had not done war first and diplomacy later, and gone ahead with a two-country "coalition of the willing".
A dream-scenario remains, just about, on the level just below the horizon. It is still considered possible the encirclement of Iraq will bring "regime change" without a fight.
A colossal electronic propaganda effort is underway, flooding the emails and cellphones of Iraqi officers with both warnings and enticements: Don't die for Saddam and/or do yourselves a favour.
THIS chance is reckoned slim over at the Pentagon, but not negligible. It constitutes the last and only reason for further delay (After all, it's just been proven that the United States can confront Saddam AND capture al-Qaeda leaders at the same time).
If Bush can crack or disarm Saddam and bring his men and women home without a scratch, he might perhaps manage a grin even while other nations take credit for it.
Failing that, he and his British ally will have to take the blame for doing what no others were serious enough even to threaten.