April 20, 2004
President Bush met the press on April 13 with a bucket of red herrings to toss out whenever the questioning got too tough.
Asked whether the international coalition in Iraq is just window dressing and whether the coalition will bear more of the burden of providing security after the handover of the government to the Iraqis, Bush chose to sidestep the questions by talking about how brave our soldiers and allies are.
That dodge was bad enough, but what was worse was his statement that "some of the debate really centers around the fact that people don't believe Iraq can be free; that if you're Muslim, or perhaps brown-skinned, you can't be self-governing or free. I'd strongly disagree with that."
Reporters were not raising questions about Iraq because they believe Muslims and brown-skinned people cannot be self-governing or free. They raised these questions to learn why certain things have happened and what our president and his advisers have done to bring us to our current circumstances.
The remark about Muslims and brown-skinned people came after a particularly pointed question about the fact that the second largest armed force in Iraq after the U. S. military is probably the private security forces. These forces are a legitimate concern. It was images of their dead and desecrated bodies that anti-American forces in Iraq wanted the world to see as a way of demanding U.S. withdrawal from the country.
Bush's response suggests that he might be fighting some negative stereotype of his own. Muslims, after all, have their own democratic governments in many countries, including Indonesia, Bangladesh and Turkey, among others.
Throughout the world, former colonies of European or U.S. empires are now struggling with a myriad of problems either brought on or exacerbated by the countries that controlled them.
During the Cold War many former colonies had to side with either the United States or the Soviet Union to survive. Political alliances often seemed more important to Washington than democracy or the fate of the people who were being governed. The continued existence of many democracies in developing countries like India, Brazil, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Egypt, Kenya and Mexico is a story of struggle against nearly impassable obstacles.
The issue is not about the desire of Muslims and brown-skinned people for freedom. Bush used religion and color to try to deflect criticism of his own administration and create an us-against-them mentality among Americans. This was a clumsy maneuver, at best.
At a time when Americans are dying in Iraq in increasing numbers, we deserve much better from our president than a stream of platitudes and a bucket of red herrings.
Starita Smith is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denton, Texas, where she is a doctorate student in sociology at University of North Texas. She is a former reporter and editor at the Austin American-Statesman, the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch and the Gary (Ind.) Post-Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.