All you need to know about President Bush’s address to the nation yesterday is that its goal was to reassure his fellow conservatives that the U.S. will continue to fight “terrorists” — a.k.a. “they” and “them.”
Bush’s speech made one reference to Al Qaeda, and two to Osama Bin Laden. But any Bush supporter listening to the speech would have probably thought that much of the speech was regarding one or the other. To make sure, Bush frequently mixed and matched which terrorists he was talking about, blending them as “they” or “them,” discussing “their objectives,” as if Al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgency thought as one.
By my count, the president used the mysterious “they” or “them” 39 times to describe the blended “terrorists.” Did he mean Al Qaeda? Did he mean the insurgency? It probably didn’t matter to conservative listeners, to whom this pep rally speech was red meat for continued unequivocal support of the Bush agenda.
The president was long on platitudes, but short on specifics, which is a key to Bushspeak. Details are for wimps, or worse, liberals.
BUSH: “The troops here and across the world are fighting a global war on terror. The war reached our shores on September the 11th, 2001. The terrorists who attacked us — and the terrorists we face – murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance, and despises all dissent.”
But wait — those are two groups of terrorists. The terrorists who attacked us are Al Qaeda, predominantly of Saudi descent, possibly financed by Iran and led by a Saudi hiding out in either Afghanistan or Pakistan or possbily Iran — we have a “pretty good idea” of where he is, we’re told.
“The terrorists who we face?” That’s the insurgency. Could that group include Al Qaeda? Yes, although the conservatives have been long on talk and short on evidence in proving that point. Given this administration’s track record, if it could prove the insurgents included Al Qaeda, it would have trumpeted that point again and again. In his speech yesterday, Bush mentions that “we have killed or captured hundreds of foreign fighters in Iraq who have come from Saudi Arabia and Syria, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and others.” I don’t doubt that’s true — but again, if it could be proven that these “foreign fighters” were Al Qaeda, the administration would have trumpeted that upon each killing or capture.
But in Bushspeak, it’s important to mix and match terrorists.
In paragraph four, we are introduced to the mysterious “they.”
BUSH: “To achieve these aims, they have continued to kill — in Madrid, Istanbul, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh, Bali, and elsewhere. The terrorists believe that free societies are essentially corrupt and decadent, and with a few hard blows they can force us to retreat. They are mistaken. After September the 11th, I made a commitment to the American people: This nation will not wait to be attacked again. We will defend our freedom. We will take the fight to the enemy.”
But who is this mysterious “they”? Why, it’s Al Qaeda, or groups the Bush Administration has suggested have ties to Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda and its allies attacked Madrid, Istanbul, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh, Bali, and elsewhere — including New York and Washington. “They” are Al Qaeda. “They” are not the insurgents.
After introducing us to the mysterious “they,” Bush repeats an argument he’s been making since the insurgency sprang up:
BUSH: “Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war. Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women, and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York, in Washington, and Pennsylvania. There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home.”
So, the “they” in Iraq are similar to the “they” that we know as Al Qaeda, in that they are willing to kill Americans. That’s the rationale for the war — or at least it is now. The original rationale was quite different, if you remember. Something about weapons of mass destruction that could be delivered to the U.S. or its allies in 45 minutes. Something about being satisfied with the evidence at hand, lest we wait for “the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
Bush made one reference to Al Qaeda and two to its leader, Osama bin Laden.
Of Al Qaeda, he re-affirmed the idea that Al Qaeda was somehow responsible, along with the aforementioned “foreign terrorists,” for the insurgency.
BUSH: “To complete the mission, we will continue to hunt down the terrorists and insurgents. To complete the mission, we will prevent al Qaeda and other foreign terrorists from turning Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban, a safe haven from which they could launch attacks on America and our friends.”
What is Bush’s evidence for this belief? What details can he provide? Let’s look at what Bush says about Osama:
BUSH: “Some wonder whether Iraq is a central front in the war on terror. Among the terrorists, there is no debate. Hear the words of Osama Bin Laden: ‘This Third World War is raging’ in Iraq. ‘The whole world is watching this war.’ He says it will end in ‘victory and glory, or misery and humiliation.’”
Two things to note. One is the fact that “in Iraq” is not in quotation marks in the president’s address. Did Osama ever say “This Third World War is raging in Iraq”? Apprarently not. Assuming the president’s speechwriters know basic rules of punctuation, we don’t have a quote from Osama that includes both “This Third World War is raging” and “in Iraq,” or else the speechwriters would have put them together in one quote, using elipsis.
But even beyond that, Osama rooting for the insurgency is not akin to Osama backing the insurgency, financially or by providing manpower.
Bush’s other mention of Osama is pure platitude:
BUSH: “The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September the 11th, if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like Zarqawi, and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like Bin Laden.”
Fighting (and ultimately defeating) the insurgency certainly hurts Osama’s desire for a “Third World War,” but it doesn’t mean Osama can’t strike elsewhere, including the U.S. “They” the insurgents might be stopped, but that has little effect on “they” Al Qaeda.
I’ll give credit to Bush for one thing: He didn’t repeat the flawed intelligence that Zarqawi had traveled to Syria to plan bombings in Iraq — intelligence that was used initially to support possible future action against Syria, before it was retracted.
Clearly, that means that Bush’s speech was written in the last month. It would have been hard to tell otherwise — so much of it seemed to repeat things Bush has been trying to convince Americans of since the insurgency began.
This article first appeared on Journalists Against Bush’s B.S. (JABBS)