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If I Hear Bush, Then I Don't Believe Him

By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, January 19, 2005; Page B01

I'd like to listen to President Bush's inaugural address tomorrow, but my hearing seems to have deteriorated so much over the past four years that I probably wouldn't understand a word he says.

For instance, during Bush's first inaugural speech, it sounded to me as if he said: "Our unity, our union, is the serious work of leaders and citizens in every generation. And this is my solemn pledge: I will work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity."

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Courtland Milloy can be reached at (202) 334-7592 or by e-mail at milloyc@washpost.com.

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Take a look at the 2004 election map of red and blue states and tell me: Do I need a hearing aid, or what?

Back in May 2003, when Bush was taking questions from reporters about the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, I could have sworn I heard him say: "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories."

There was nothing new about Bush's claims that Iraq possessed such weapons.

In October 2002, several newspapers quoted him as saying, "And surveillance photos reveal that the regime is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons." He also said, "We've discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical weapons across broad areas."

But after Saddam Hussein's ouster, he went even further, saying that weapons of mass destruction had actually been found.

"You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons," Bush told a television reporter from Poland. "And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong. We found them."

Now, I saw Powell appear before the United Nations in February 2003. But it looked to me as if he was pointing to a drawing of a truck that he claimed resembled a mobile chemical lab while at the same time holding up a make-believe vial of anthrax.

Then again, maybe I need eyeglasses, too.

I read last week that the search for weapons of mass destruction had been called off and that the weapons hunters had returned home empty-handed. The news was greeted with a collective ho-hum. So maybe I was the only one who misunderstood the president. Maybe what he really said was that he'd found that child who had been left behind. (For the record, the Department of Education did not pay me to say that.) At any rate, we now have a carousel of reasons for having attacked Iraq, depending on which ride the administration wants to take you on.

"The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September 11, 2001 -- and still goes on," Bush said in May 2003. That's when he announced that major combat operations in Iraq had ended -- that is, if I heard him right.

Of course, major combat operations had not ended; in fact, it seems that they had only just begun. And Bush began sounding more and more like this:

"The terrorists are fighting freedom with all their cunning and cruelty because freedom is their greatest fear," he said in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in September 2004. "And they should be afraid, because freedom is on the march. I believe in the transformational power of liberty. The wisest use of American strength is to advance freedom. As the citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq seize the moment, their example will send a message of hope throughout a vital region."

Jonathan Clarke, a scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute and co-author of "America Alone," has offered a clue to understanding Bush's rhetorical inconsistencies.

"This whole thing about WMDs and connection with al Qaeda . . . were [just] the rhetorical tools he was using to persuade the American people," Clarke said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. "He knew if he got up and said, 'I have this ambitious project for changing the face of the Middle East,' people wouldn't have bought into that. So you had these immediate rationales being rolled out, but no great attachment to them."

I heard that. Why buy a hearing aid when a lie detector will do just fine?

E-mail: milloyc@washpost.com


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