President Bush spent part of his Independence Day trying to gain traction for comments he made a few days earlier in a nationwide address.
Speaking at West Virginia University, Bush once again tried to tie together the terrorists who struck the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001 (aka Al Qaeda) and the “terrorists” that the U.S. fights today in Iraq (aka the Iraqi insurgency), repeating the themes of his June 28 speech as well as his July 2 weekly radio address.
It’s sad how easily Bush can turn misleading statements into applause lines. It’s an easy recipe: mention Sept. 11, throw in some patriotic phrasing — great for television soundbites! — and mix and match facts until you come up with something that’s pleasing to the ear. Sadder still, the “mainstream media” chose yesterday not to fact-check the president, acting like stenographers as they highlighted the main themes of yesterday’s speech. The harshest thing most reporters could come up with was that Bush’s popularity ratings have slipped.
Let’s take a look at the core of Bush’s speech — his case for fighting in Iraq.
BUSH: At this hour, our men and women in uniform are defending America against the threats of the 21st century. The war we are fighting came to our shores on September the 11th, 2001. After that day, I made a pledge to the American people, we will not wait to be attacked again. (Applause.) We will bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies. (Applause.)
FACT-CHECK: Bush mixes and matches facts here to get two applause lines. Ask the West Virginians who Bush meant when he talks of troops “defending America,” and undoubtedly they’ll say the troops in Iraq. But then — bait-and-switch — Bush says the war we are fighting “came to our shores on September the 11th.”
Why is it bait-and-switch? Because the Iraqis didn’t attack us on Sept. 11. Al Qaeda did. Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind Sept. 11, remains at large. The 9/11 Commission found no “credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States,” so fighting in Iraq isn’t “bringing justice” to those that struck us.
One tenuous tie between post-Saddam Iraq and Al Qaeda are the “foreign fighters” who have joined the Iraqi insurgency. The Bush administration has said that those foreign fighters include Al Qaeda, although they have not brought forth any hard evidence to support that opinion. By most objective accounts, the percentage of foreign fighters in Iraq has been small, although the Bush administration has argued their numbers are growing.
BUSH: Our enemies in this new war are men who celebrate murder, incite suicide and thirst for absolute power. They seek to spread their ideology of tyranny and oppression across the world. They seek to turn the Middle East into a haven for terror. They seek to drive America out of the region. These terrorists will not be stopped by negotiations, or concessions, or appeals to reason. In this war, there is only one option, and that is victory. (Applause.)
FACT-CHECK: Al Qaeda and its allies have, since Sept. 11, attacked Madrid, Istanbul, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh and Bali. Bush, in his June 28 address, quoted (and paraphrased) Bin Laden, saying: “This Third World War is raging” in Iraq. “The whole world is watching this war.” (The placement of the quotation marks is Bush’s, suggesting Bin Laden never said “This Third World War is raging in Iraq.”)
One could argue the insurgents want to drive the U.S. out of Iraq, but it’s a stretch to say they “seek to spread their ideology of tyranny and oppression across the world.” Who is Bush actually talking about to get his applause lines? Al Qaeda.
Bush speaks for another two paragraphs before he finally utters the word “Iraq.” At that point he says:
BUSH: Iraq is the latest battlefield in the war on terror. Our work there is difficult and dangerous because terrorists from across the region are converging on Iraq to fight the rise of democracy.”
FACT-CHECK: Again, by most accounts, the percentage of Iraqi insurgents who are “foreign fighters” remains a minority, and the Bush Administration has not yet provided evidence that the foreign fighters are Al Qaeda, vs. individuals who are either pro-Saddam, anti-U.S., or simply wanting to fight what they see as an occupying nation.
But this two-sentence piece of Bush’s speech is noteworthy for a positive reason: the president finally distinguishes Iraqi insurgents from “terrorists from across the region.” It wasn’t an applause line or a soundbite, but it wasn’t misleading, either.
This article first appeared on Journalists Against Bush’s B.S. (JABBS)