Everybody knows that President Junior doesn't write his
own speeches. Given his embarrassing performances
of late, however, it's an open question whether Bush even comprehends the speeches he reads. Consider his
recent European foray, for example, where the president's ignorance was matched only by his petulance.
The German newspaper Der Spiegel reports that at a diplomatic
reception Bush astonished the president
of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, by asking, "Do you have blacks too?" Noticing the Brazilian delegation's
consternation, national security advisor Condoleeza Rice rescued her boss. "Mr. President, Brazil has probably
more blacks than the USA," she said, "It is the country with most blacks outside of Africa." Cardoso diplomatically
told Der Spiegel that Bush is "still in training" on Latin America.
Oh well, what's Brazil got to do with anything? In keeping
with what I call the "Tinkerbell Effect," after the animated
sprite in Disney's "Peter Pan," the American press ignored the incident. See, if we all just close our eyes and make
believe, we can be confident that when Bush makes sweeping historical pronouncements like those in his bellicose
West Point speech last weekend, he has the first bleeping idea what he's talking about.
Something the Washington press did report, if only because
it involved one of their own, was Junior's bitchy
response to what he apparently saw as NBC correspondent David Gregory's attempt to show him up by
speaking French. At a joint Paris press conference with Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, Gregory asked Bush
about the percep-tion that U.S. policies were unpopular in Europe. He then directed the same question to
Chirac in his own language, a courtesy generally followed by European reporters.
Bush bristled. "Very good," he snapped. "The guy memorizes four words, and he plays like he's intercontinental."
Insulted, Gregory volunteered that he could continue in French.
"I'm impressed," the president sneered. "Que bueno. Now, I'm literate in two languages."
The New York Times account emphasized how tired Bush was,
an excuse you wouldn't make for a fifteen
year-old. Which is exactly what Junior, kept up past his bedtime by decadent European dining habits, sounded
like: a resentful preppie at a fancy school on Daddy's money showing his contempt for a brainy scholarship
kid-pretty much how people who went to school with Bush describe him.
The problem for Democrats, of course, is that Bush's act
plays with his core constituency of manly men who
think that unless he learned it playing hockey for the Montreal Canadiens, anybody who speaks French is a sissy
or (linguistic irony) a poseur. The real phony of course, is the make-believe Texas rancher who may be an
ignoramus, but whose political instincts are nevertheless sound.
Hence the West Point speech, whose implications Bush plainly
hasn't the acumen to grasp. Would even Tinkerbell
imagine that this president has the historical wisdom to judge that "we have our best chance since the rise of the
nation-state in the 17th century to build a world where the great powers compete in peace instead of prepare for war?"
At times, Bush strove to be inclusive. "The United States,
Japan and our Pacific friends, and now all of Europe,"
he allowed "share a deep commitment to human freedom." But what they don't share, the European trip made clear,
is the administration's zeal for attacking Iraq. Most see it as a dangerously destabilizing thrust against a small-time
despot confined since the Gulf War to brutalizing his own people. If Saddam Hussein does possess "weapons of
mass destruction," by no means certain, the notion of his launching missiles at the U.S. is preposterous. Terrorists
appear more likely to acquire nuclear materials from our allies, Pakistan and Russia.
Fortunately, the real thrust of the speech was less against
Iraq than the Pentagon. See, while Bush was wowing
the Brazilians in Berlin on May 24, somebody leaked a story to the Washington Post claiming that the Joint Chiefs
of Staff had talked him out of his dynastic obsession with overthrowing Saddam. "[O]ne top general," the Post's
Thomas Ricks reported, "said the 'Iraq hysteria' he detected last winter in some senior Bush administration officials
has been diffused."
Hence it's probably a mistake to see too much in the West
Point address. Sure, Bush promised to impose what
the Post account called "universal moral clarity between good and evil" by launching unilateral surprise attacks on
60 countries--roughly a third of the world's nation states. Nor did he say how this visionary scheme of global
domination can be realized under our democracy. It's unlikely that Bush has ever read the War Powers Act.
But remain calm. Here's all that happened: President Junior
got home from Europe; the "get Saddam" faction
put a speech on his teleprompter; he read it. Odds are that sane determination, as personified by Secretary of
State Colin Powell, may yet prevail.