April 13, 2004
George Bush's press conference on April 13 was a scary performance.
Not because his second sentence was ungrammatical: "This has been tough weeks in that country."
Not because he pronounced "instigated" as "instikated" in his fourth sentence.
Not because he said Donald Rumsfeld was Secretary of State.
Not because of his foolish comment that before 9/11 "we assumed oceans would protect us." (Ever since the Russians built their first ICBMs fifty years ago, the oceans haven't protected us.)
Not because he said of the August 6 briefing, "Frankly, I didn't think it was anything new"!
Not because he said that even if he had known beforehand that Iraq did not have WMD stockpiles, he still would have gone to war against Saddam Hussein.
Not because he had no coherent answer as to why Dick Cheney must hold his hand when he testifies to the 9/11 commission.
Not because he said that no one in his Administration had "any indication that bin Laden might hijack an airplane and run it into a building," when in fact, at the Genoa G-8 summit, there were precautions taken against incoming airplanes as missiles.
And not because he repeatedly refused to take a shred of personal responsibility for allowing the 9/11 attacks to happen on his watch.
No, his performance was scary because he plunged the United States deeper into a no-win war in Iraq.
"We will finish the job of the fallen," he said.
He gave only a pro forma nod toward the additional innocent Iraqis the United States may kill in the process.
"We will continue taking the greatest care to prevent harm to innocent civilians; yet we will not permit the spread of chaos and violence," he said. "I have directed our military commanders to make every preparation to use decisive force, if necessary, to maintain order and to protect our troops."
He reiterated this point later, saying, "Our commanders on the ground have got the authority necessary to deal with violence, and will--and will in firm fashion."
Here is the President warning that U.S. troops, who have already killed more than 600 Iraqis in the last week, will have a free hand.
That is a signal for slaughter.
He also continued to underestimate the resistance the United States is facing in Iraq. He called it "a power grab by extremist and ruthless elements." He said, "It is not a civil war. It is not a popular uprising." And, astonishingly, he asserted, "Most of Iraq is relatively stable."
That is not what many reporters have seen with their own eyes, and it is not what the TV screens are portraying.
What's more, Bush's vow to unleash "decisive force" will only make things worse.
He indicated that he will go after Moqtada al-Sadr, saying the cleric "must answer the charges against him and disband his illegal militia." This strongly suggests that Bush will order his troops to, as one senior commander said, "kill or capture" al-Sadr. And if that happens, all hell could break loose.
In his Manichaean worldview, Bush lumped the Iraqi insurgents in with the terrorists of 9/11. They are all "enemies of civilization," he said, and they share "a fanatical political ideology."
But many of those who are fighting against the U.S. occupation are not Al Qaeda members who want to destroy America and are not subscribers to the "ideology of terror." Rather, many are Iraqi nationalists who want to expel America from their own country because they have seen the brutality of the U.S. occupation.
That's a huge difference, and Bush makes a terrible mistake by conflating the two.
He also seems to have a static view of who the enemy is. He sees it as a finite group of innate murderers and evildoers. He thinks that all he needs to do is kill all the bad guys and victory is his.
But he doesn't understand that his policy is creating new enemies by the thousands every single day.
He warned that if the United States does not take "resolute action" and does not "stay the course" in Iraq, it will "recruit a new generation of killers."
What he failed to grasp is that by maintaining the brutal occupation, he himself is recruiting that generation.
And the more "firm" and "decisive" the U.S. military response, the more recruits Bush will be enlisting to fight against the United States.
Interestingly, the first question Bush got was on the Vietnam comparison.
But Bush did not want to hear anything about it. "The analogy is false," he said, without explaining why.
He did, however, suggest that it was almost treasonous to raise the specter of Vietnam. "That analogy sends the wrong message to our troops and to the enemy," he said.
(This is an echo of John Ashcroft's infamous statement that "those who scare peace-loving people with the phantoms of lost liberty" are giving "aid" and "ammunition" to America's enemies.)
In previous remarks, Bush has made clear that he believes the lesson of Vietnam is two-fold: first, that the political leaders interfered with the generals, and second, that the United States did not use overwhelming force.
If that is the lesson he applies here, the generals will run the war, and overwhelming force will be the order of the day.
Expect more troops to be sent over soon, or to have their tours extended. Bush said if General Abizaid wants more troops, which he does, he'll get them.
Bush also displayed again the full fervor of his messianic militarism.
Several times he mentioned that the war offered a "historic opportunity to change the world."
In one of his most emphatic moments, he said, "I also have this belief, strong belief, that freedom is not this country's gift to the world; freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man and woman in this world. And as the greatest power on the face of the Earth, we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom."
This is Bush saying that he is doing God's work in Iraq. That is a particularly inappropriate claim to make, leaving aside the obvious leaping of the church/state wall. Given that Bush has chosen to wage war in an Islamic country, it is unlikely that there are many Iraqis who are anxious to hear Bush's theological justifications.
Bush's rhetoric is proof once again that the government of the United States is in the hands of a crude and deluded leader, whose war policy in Iraq promises more disasters to come.
"Our work may become more difficult before it is finished," he said.
With Bush's approach, that is a guarantee.