Simon Tisdall, Guardian columnist, writes:
His Fort Bragg moment, if handled skillfully, might have enabled him to refute the Republican senator Chuck Hagel's widely quoted, armour-piercing jibe that the White House is "disconnected from reality [and] making it up as they go along".
But the president fluffed it.
Like a recidivist incapable of going straight, Mr Bush plunged back into the scaremongering rhetoric of last autumn's election campaign and once again deliberately conflated the Iraq war with the 9/11 terror attacks.
As before, he offered no way back and no joint, consensual path forward. Instead he ignored his critics, rewrapped himself in the flag, and gloried, from a safe distance, in the sacrifice of America's soldiers.
Oblivious to the inherent contradiction, he vowed to defeat a weakened, immoral enemy that was simultaneously ubiquitous and on the attack.
There would be no raking over the past, Dan Bartlett, his communications director, insisted. In other words, Mr Bush does wars. He does freedom and he does democracy, as defined in Washington. But he does not do apologies.
What the president's "not on my watch" remark suggested instead was that as long as he occupies the White House, there would be no significant reconsideration of the present "three-war" strategy. This comprises the war to pacify Iraq and Afghanistan; the global "war on terror" (which now increasingly targets Iran); and the selective, preponderantly diplomatic war for democracy in the Middle East and beyond. This is how Mr Bush is beginning to define a legacy almost wholly lacking in domestic policy achievements.
But if the president is not for turning, the US public increasingly may be. All the indications are that Mr Bush's unionist-style no surrender, hang tough, trust-me patriotism is wearing thin.
Polls suggest that Americans just do not buy it any more. They feel they have been duped.