As George W. Bush prepares to plunge the nation into war against Iraq, he is using rhetoric in a highly manipulative way. Though that may not be unusual for a wartime president, we as citizens should recognize when he is leading us around by the nose.
More than 30 times in the last seven months, Bush has used variations on a theme to describe the U.S. as vulnerable. For example, speaking to a conference of religious broadcasters in Nashville on Feb. 10, he said that before 9/11, "we thought oceans would protect us forever." The same day, at an informal press conference, Bush said: "The world changed on Sept. 11.... In our country, it used to be that oceans could protect us -- at least we thought so." Meeting with small-business owners in Georgia on Feb. 20, he invoked the oceans again.
But since Pearl Harbor, the oceans have not served as a buffer. And the intercontinental ballistic missiles of the Soviet Union kept the U.S. in a bull's-eye for 40 years, notwithstanding our vaunted seas.
Why does Bush insist on such rhetoric? "This notion of unprecedented vulnerability is absolutely crucial to the Bush team's anti-constitutional program," says Mark Crispin Miller, author of "The Bush Dyslexicon." "What that statement really means is, 'We were safe, now we're in danger, and the danger is so severe that you must give me all possible power. What the oceans once did, now only I can do.' "
In another example, Bush called Iraq a "mounting threat" in his State of the Union speech. In Georgia, he called it a "growing danger." On Wednesday, he called it a "direct and growing threat." How can Iraq be a "mounting" or "growing" threat when British and American planes have intensified their bombing raids on Iraqi military facilities, when U.N. inspectors are now going anywhere they want anytime they want, and when U.S. spy satellites can survey every inch of Iraqi territory?
One final example: Twice in his State of the Union speech and again Wednesday, Bush used the words, "if war is forced upon us." No one is forcing war on the U.S. or on the administration. Quite the contrary: Bush has been forcing the war issue for months now. For him to claim otherwise is to shirk responsibility for the grave consequences his war may have.