Television viewers on Sunday night had a choice of two George W. Bushes. They could see him standing tall on a Showtime docudrama on 9/11 (produced by a prominent Hollywood conservative), in which a heroic Bush all but exclaims “damn the torpedoes” before all but parachuting Rambo-like into Afghanistan to capture Osama bin Laden single-handedly. (Remember bin Laden?) Or they could watch the real thing stiffly read a speech in which he did little than to urge Americans and allies to buck up and stay his course.
There’s nothing like dropping to a 52-percent approval rating to send a president–especially a wartime president–rushing to the Cabinet room ( sans table) to deliver a primetime speech declaring “great progress.” Bush both reiterated that Iraq was a crucial battle in the war against terrorism and asserted it now is “the central front.” On the first point, he had nothing to say–literally–to back up his prewar assertions. He did not address the where-are-the-weapons criticism he has received over the past few months. Instead, he hailed his invasion for having overturned a regime that “sponsored terror” and “possessed and used weapons of mass destruction.” Possessed and used, that is, if one looks back to the Iraq of the 1980s (when Saddam Hussein was being courted by the Reagan and Bush I administrations). In all his advocacy for war, Bush never based his case on a two-decades-old weapons charge. His argument was that Hussein had unconventional weapons now (not in the 1980s or early 1990s) and that this tyrant was sponsoring a particular set of terrorists, namely al Qaeda. None of that has proven true, and the available evidence to date supports the notion that Bush was lying to the American public. So as Bush continues to adhere to his pre-invasion fibs, what credibility does he carry when he now maintains he is willing to cooperate with other nations in the rebuilding of Iraq (as long as they pony up)?
But Bush’s argument that Iraq was key to the war on terrorism has become self-fulfilling due to his own actions. It appears that the occupation has led to the rise of a terrorist claque within Iraq, attracting jihadists from elsewhere. US troops are indeed confronting terrorists in Mesopotamia. (What else do you call the brutal killers behind the blast at the UN compound?) Bush may have succeeded in achieving what neither bin Laden nor Hussein could have done: uniting the secular Ba’athists and the fundamentalist Islamic fascists. Iraq has become the frontline because Bush sent in the Marines–and the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Yet he keeps on pushing the neoconnish line that if Iraq were to be transformed into a democracy, that would be a blow to terrorists everywhere–especially the terrorists who aim to strike the United States. There remains no indication that Hussein enabled the mass-murderers of 9/11. So Bush’s theory is just that–an assertion that may or may not be true. He told his television audience that the triumph of democracy and tolerance in Iraq would be a “grave setback to terrorists.” Certainly, this triumph would be a good thing–but there is no telling whether or not such a development would have any impact upon the terrorist threat America faces.