When George W. Bush stood with Tony Blair before the White House press corps last week, he took a mea culpa moment to announce his regret for having formerly talked tough to jihadis, and to call Abu Ghraib "the biggest mistake that's happened so far" in Iraq. And that's when my sinking feeling over the viability of American Superpowerdom hit bottom.
It's worth noting that this presidential statement created a confessional moment of sufficient magnitude to stifle "I told you so's" from the press. Long pained by Bush's spaghetti-Western diction, and long party to the Abu Ghraib Outrage Industry, media elites might have been expected to, well, rub it in. Then again, Bush took care of that himself. He referred to language that once irked his critics -- "bring it on," he offered as an example, along with "wanted, dead or alive." I'm guessing he would also include the line, "you're either with us or against us." Bush then informed the world that, yes, he had grown. Such "kind of tough talk," he said, "sent the wrong signal to people. I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner. ... I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted, and so I learned from that."
I wonder if Bush has ever noticed the extravagantly malignant ravings against the United States (not to mention Jews and Christians) that are government-tolerated and even government-encouraged in some of those "certain parts of the world" I suspect he is referring to.
Anyway, Bush's recent comments are quite significant: He has renounced statements made at critical junctures of the so-called war on terror. And this is deeply depressing. I went back to the original statements to figure out why.
Less than a week after Sept. 11, Bush invoked the wanted posters of the Old West to describe his perfectly natural attitude toward and plans for Osama bin Laden -- "wanted, dead or alive." Quite mild, actually. Is he now saying he doesn't want the Islamic terror kingpin dead or alive?
I seriously doubt it.
In July 2003, several months after American-led coalition forces deposed Saddam Hussein, the president, in emphasizing U.S. resolve, declared that our forces wouldn't be thwarted by gathering terrorist foes. "Bring 'em on," he said (not "Bring it on," a phrase so often reported that Bush now misquotes himself) by way of praising U.S. troops. Is he now saying he doesn't believe in his fighting men? Of course not.