Bush's Most Desperate Speech Yet

On the very day that New York City received "credible" (then "doubtful") information that 19 operatives had been dispatched to bomb the subways, President Bush gave a speech to remind America that the "war on terror" was on the front burner. Channeling elder statesman David Letterman, Bush claimed that 10 serious terrorist plots had been derailed since 9/11.

Bush was hoping to deliver us from our dangerous preoccupation with Rove's troubles, DeLay's indictment, Frist's SEC problems, the fallout from Katrina, his holy-shit-I've-even-lost-the-evangelicals 37-percent approval rating, and the $3 gallon of gas. You know, to focus on the real threat (Ter'r), and thus, his argument went, to remain in Iraq.

Or, from The New York Times:

A senior White House official said Thursday evening that the president's 40-minute speech arose from Mr. Bush's desire to remind Americans, after "a lot of distractions" in recent months, that the country was still under threat, and had no choice but to remain in Iraq so Al Qaeda did not use it as a base to train for attacks on the United States and its allies.
In other words, Bush is asking America to continue to Fight the Enemy -- though now it's an enemy created by failed policy. He's even exhumed Osama bin Laden again, calculating, apparently, that he has more to gain by invoking the bogeyman than he has to lose reminding the public he hasn't caught him after four years and billions down the drain. Talk about desperation.

Speaking of desperation, listed among the 10 threats derailed over the past four years by the Bush Administration are attempts "to attack ships in the Persian Gulf in late 2002 and 2003; to attack ships in the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow part of the gulf where it opens into the Arabian Sea, in 2002 ... "

One doesn't want to make light of any legitimate threat, nor value the life of one people over another, but does anyone seriously believe that the president went on TV to inspire the confidence of Americans (or to assure them of his leadership) by invoking a 3-year-old plot to attack ships in the Strait of Hormuz? Can one in 100 Americans even find the Strait of Hormuz on a map?

And, when one considers the sound-bite companion to "stay the course" -- that America will "stand down when Iraqis stand up" -- the folly of Bush's speech gave way to absurdity because the number of trained Iraqis "standing up" has actually dropped.

On Sept. 29, General George Casey testified that "the number of Iraqi battalions capable of fighting without American support has dropped from three to one." Insurmountable? Not if you move the goal posts and remain vague: "There are over 30 Iraqi battalions in the lead," claimed the president at an Oct. 4 press conference.

So thin was the gruel served up in Thursday's speech, that even the typically charitable New York Times refused to play along. David Sanger's article positively dripped with sarcasm and disdain. After the press grilled Scott McClellan over the Top 10 Derailed Plots mentioned in Bush's speech, and after his underwhelming response (Jose Padilla, Iman Faris), the Times' Sanger noted that a list was "hastily put together" and that "It was not immediately clear whether other items on the list represented significant threats."

Judged in its entirety, Bush's speech was a flailing disaster. But the zenith -- or nadir, depending on your perspective -- has to be Bush's inclusion of Jose Padilla on his list of 10. It goes without saying that if Padilla had plotted what he is accused of plotting -- namely, to detonate a "dirty bomb" on a plane -- then he legitimately belongs on the list.

But Padilla doesn't yet, becuase he hasn't had due process. As Findlaw's Joanne Mariner put it, "The truth of the allegations against [Padilla] -- that he planned to commit acts of terrorism -- has never been tested in court." By including Padilla on that list, Bush shows he's content to convict a man in the court of his own opinion.

The implications of the Padilla case are themselves terror-inducing. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, in his dissent to the Supreme Court's rejection of the Padilla case on "procedural grounds," put it this way: "At stake in this case is nothing less than the essence of a free society."

Indeed, if the Bush administration is given the go-ahead to classify anyone it desires an enemy combatant, and thus exclude them from their right to due process, well, you do the math.

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