Here is the correct transcript of the exchange:
PRESIDENT BUSH: It's not the first time that Vladimir and I discussed our governing philosophies. I have shared with him my desires for our country, and he shared with me his desires for his. And I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world like Iraq where there's a free press and free religion, and I told him that a lot of people in our country would hope that Russia would do the same thing.
I fully understand, however, that there will be a Russian-style democracy. I don't expect Russia to look like the United States. As Vladimir pointedly reminded me last night, we have a different history, different traditions. And I will let him describe to you his way forward, but he shared with me some very interesting thoughts that I think would surprise some of our citizens...
[Bush continues to speak for several more paragraphs.]
PRESIDENT PUTIN: We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, I will tell you quite honestly. (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT BUSH: Just wait.
The key line that was missing -- and it's an astonishing one -- is "Just wait." Cox Newspapers reporter Ken Herman reports that the initial White House transcript omitted this line:
It took the White House two-and-a-half hours to make the correction, but the official transcript of President Bush’s Saturday news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin finally includes Bush’s attempt to rebut a Putin one-liner that highlighted the event.
The key moment came when Putin, after Bush touted freedom in Iraq, said, “We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy they have in Iraq, I will tell you quite honestly.”
At the news conference, Bush shot back with a light-hearted “Just wait,” an indication that he believes Iraq will become a full-fledged, functional democracy.
But the original transcript released by the White House left out the line.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Bush "spoke so quietly [when he said "Just wait"] that his comment could barely be heard in the front row and it was not clear whether Putin heard him."
As a result of Bush's quiet statement and the omission of it from the official transcript, a number of news reports on the exchange failed to cover it. In fact, Google News currently lists only five news reports that include the quote.
Doesn't Bush's statement deserve some attention? Under Michael Kinsley's classic definition, a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth. In this case, Bush has said what he thinks is the truth -- Iraq is progressing toward full-blown democracy -- at a time when the reality-based community sees the country as rapidly sliding toward civil war.
Given this comment and others like it, I think it's increasingly clear that Ron Suskind is the most important journalist in America. He's consistently done the best work on the Bush administration's faith-based approach to public policy:
-The One Percent Doctrine (2006) -- the story of the CIA's interaction with the Bush administration after 9/11;
-"Without a doubt" (2004) -- an exploration of the Bush administration's black-and-white view of the world;
-The Price of Loyalty (2004) -- the story of former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's bafflement at how the Bush White House was run;
-"Why are these men laughing?" (2003) -- a chronicle of former White House official John DiIlulio's disillusionment with the way the Bush administration prioritized politics over substance in domestic policy.