At his news conference today, President Bush took a question from Helen Thomas for the first time in four years. Helen, who is in her 80s, has been a critic of President Bush, so naturally he is terrified of her.
Helen has made it well-known what question she intended to ask Mr. Bush: Why did we go to war in Iraq?
His answer: You wanna know about Iraq? Let me tell you about Afghanistan. The president launched into the reasons we went to war against the Taliban, which gave him an excuse to connect the dots to Al Qaeda, and September 11 — and then he went a dot too far and connected September 11 to Saddam.
There you have it: We went into Iraq because of 9/11. The remedy for 9/11 was to get rid of Saddam. Yesterday, the president said he had always been “very careful never to say that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks on America.”
When you read the president’s verbatim answer below, you’ll see that his statement makes no sense. This is intentional. It is a prima facie example of “mirroring,” a term I learned today which describes the linguistic hat trick that Mr. Bush and his team use to create their patented brand of truthiness.
According to BuzzFlash, mirroring is a way of obliquely phrasing an untrue statement so that a) listeners draw the intended false conclusion and b) the phrasing cannot be deconstructed to show that the statement was untrue.
Here is the master mirror man at work:
HELEN THOMAS: I’d like to ask you, Mr. President, your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is, why did you really want to go to war? From the moment you stepped into the White House, from your Cabinet — your Cabinet officers, intelligence people, and so forth — what was your real reason? You have said it wasn’t oil — quest for oil, it hasn’t been Israel, or anything else. What was it?
THE PRESIDENT: I think your premise — in all due respect to your question and to you as a lifelong journalist — is that — I didn’t want war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect —
HELEN THOMAS: Everything —
THE PRESIDENT: Hold on for a second, please.
HELEN THOMAS: — everything I’ve heard —
THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me, excuse me. No President wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it’s just simply not true. My attitude about the defense of this country changed on September the 11th. We — when we got attacked, I vowed then and there to use every asset at my disposal to protect the American people. Our foreign policy changed on that day, Helen. You know, we used to think we were secure because of oceans and previous diplomacy. But we realized on September the 11th, 2001, that killers could destroy innocent life. And I’m never going to forget it. And I’m never going to forget the vow I made to the American people that we will do everything in our power to protect our people.
Part of that meant to make sure that we didn’t allow people to provide safe haven to an enemy. And that’s why I went into Iraq — hold on for a second —
HELEN THOMAS: They didn’t do anything to you, or to our country.
THE PRESIDENT: Look — excuse me for a second, please. Excuse me for a second. They did. The Taliban provided safe haven for al Qaeda. That’s where al Qaeda trained —
HELEN THOMAS: I’m talking about Iraq —
THE PRESIDENT: Helen, excuse me. That’s where — Afghanistan provided safe haven for al Qaeda. That’s where they trained. That’s where they plotted. That’s where they planned the attacks that killed thousands of innocent Americans.
I also saw a threat in Iraq. I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That’s why I went to the Security Council; that’s why it was important to pass 1441, which was unanimously passed. And the world said, disarm, disclose, or face serious consequences —
HELEN THOMAS: — go to war —
THE PRESIDENT: — and therefore, we worked with the world, we worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did, and the world is safer for it.
This is a reminder that President Bush is not as dumb as he acts. Incurious, unread and thick-headed, yes — but also a devious liar who is clever enough to fool a lot of the people most the of the time.