Robert A George: Bin There, Not Done That
a rhetorical standpoint, President Bush's address Tuesday was
well-written and presented and may provide a momentary boost in support
for his position of completing -- to use a word he uttered nine times
-- "the mission."
However, the essential problem in this attempt to prevent the rise of more Rep. Walter Joneses (R-N.C) may be a basic public sense that in the talk of "completing the mission," a crucial step was skipped.
Perhaps the problem isn't "mission creep" -- it's the "missing creep."
For all the speech's references to September 11, 2001 (a half-dozen
or so), the architect of that day of horror, Osama bin Laden, was
mentioned just twice. In a sense, this was a deviation from the recent
past because Bush faced significant criticism during the presidential
election that months had elapsed without mentioning bin Laden as
attention turned to Iraq.
However, the two references on Tuesday, upon deeper reflection, are
more puzzling than anything else. First, to reinforce the idea that
"Iraq is a central front in the war on terror," the president stated,
"Here are the words of Osama bin Laden: This Third World War is raging
in Iraq. The whole world is watching this war."
The second reference was: "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."
In both passages, bin Laden is almost incidental to a war on terror
that we were just reminded, "reached our shores on September 11, 2001."
Bush uses bin Laden almost like a rhetorical passing footnote in the
argument he is building. If Americans are asked to learn "the lessons
of 9/11," how can they do so when the man who orchestrated the most
destructive attack on American land in history is reduced to a
Putting aside the Downing Street Memos and the implications they suggest for the run-up to Iraq -- even granting Tony Blair's assertion that the DSMs have been taken out of context -- this odd use of bin Laden raises a real credibility issue.
The viewer/reader/listener is repeatedly reminded that America was
attacked on September 11th but, contrary to what we were repeatedly
told after September 11th, one man wasn't responsible. This
man -- once "wanted dead or alive" -- who helped create an
international gang, is now just a reference and an allusion. Reading
the president's words literally, one could begin to believe that the
Middle East isn't really in danger from the head of al Qaeda, only "men
like bin Laden." (Emphasis added.) Indeed, al Qaeda itself is mentioned but once.
With little reference to the participation of bin Laden or his
group,"ideology" (alternately described as murderous, totalitarian,
hateful, etc.) becomes the villain that attacked us. Thus, it is the
"ideology" that we battle in Iraq, now represented by a different
"mission creep," Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Combating an ideology may be a worthy endeavor, but human nature
tends to more easily understand -- and gain satisfaction from -- clear
victories over visible men rather than amorphous ideologies. After
being told over the months that the on the one hand, the top 10, 20,
30, 40 or whatever percent of al Qaeda has been captured or killed, but
now being told of the "hundreds of foreign fighters" pouring into Iraq
suggests that the "ideology" has something more than a finite number of
Thus, the so-called "central front" in this war is comprised of an
ever-changing collection of nameless entities -- some are "insurgents,"
some are "terrorists," (a previously-unexplored distinction); some are
"men like Zarqawi"; or "men like bin Laden" -- even as the man himself is reduced to a footnote.
Americans are indeed willing to stick out difficulties in order to
confront the post-9/11 world. They will not, to use the president's
words, "forget the lessons of September 11, 2001."
But, sooner or later, the president must realize that success means
more than just a laundry list of democracy-enhancing "accomplishments."
It may mean that defeating an ideology means actually capturing or
killing the leading adherent of that ideology -- and there has been
much of that in Iraq. However, while the president talks about
September 11 "lessons," the public might think that actually getting
the villain who plotted the events of that day -- who is
sadly, miles away from the Iraq battlefield -- would do wonders for the
Otherwise, he will find himself back mere months from now, again
trying to explain what is going on in Iraq, while doing his best to
hope that no one notices the missing creep who started it all. - Robert A George (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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