Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
September 22, 2005
I suppose it was bound to happen. Whenever Bush is in trouble, he conjures up 9/11.
And so, after his disastrous performance on Katrina, he has now managed to take shelter under the overstretched awning of 9/11.
At a speech before the Republican Jewish Coalition, which ought to have been a very small crowd, Bush made the link: “I've been thinking a lot about how America has responded [to Katrina], and it's clear to me that Americans value human life, and value every person as important. And that stands in stark contrast, by the way, to the terrorists we have to deal with. You see, we look at the destruction caused by Katrina, and our hearts break. They're the kind of people who look at Katrina and wish they had caused it. We're in a war against these people. It's a war on terror. These are evil men who target the suffering. They killed 3,000 people on September the 11th, 2001. And they’ve continued to kill.”
Not exactly a smooth segue, but Bush used it anyway. And he extended it to Iraq, saying for the umpteenth time that “Iraq is the central battlefront in the war on terror.” Again, Bush said, “We value every life,” unlike the suicide car bombers. But I’ve never heard Bush speak about the 25,000 to 100,000 Iraqi civilians that his war has cost. He sure doesn’t appear to place much value on them.
For Bush, it’s all one: Us versus Them. Good versus Evil. And since he believes he’s doing the work of God Almighty, Iraqi casualties don’t count.
“Freedom is a gift from Almighty god to each man and woman in this world,” Bush told the Republican Jewish Coalition. And delivering that gift is “the calling of our time.” If he runs over tens of thousands of Iraqis while delivering that gift, no matter.
(To ingratiate himself further with the crowd, Bush also went out of his way to embrace the Israeli prime minister. “I got a partner in peace in Ariel Sharon,” Bush said. “Ariel Sharon has shown great leadership” in withdrawing from Gaza.)
By coupling Katrina with Al Qaeda, Bush tried to find his footing, return to the moral high ground, and relive his glory days with the bullhorn.
If the White House special effects guys had gotten their act together, they would have shown bin Laden and Zarqawi, cheeks puffed up, blowing the winds of Katrina—and now Rita--through the Gulf of Mexico and right into New Orleans.
The underlying theme was not hard to decipher: Nature is against us, the terrorists are against us, so you better rally behind the President, who can protect you against evil acts of every variety.
Problem is, he can’t.
He failed miserably in his handling of Katrina.
He’s failing miserably in his handling of the war against Al Qaeda.
And he’s failing miserably in Iraq.
If I were Bush, I wouldn’t link Katrina with the war on terror and with Iraq.
It makes him look triply bad.