Tuning out Bush

bush giving 2007 state of the union addressIn his annual State of the Union address last night, President Bush did not let the absence of former chief speechwriter and Wheaton College graduate Michael Gerson keep him from talking about religion. Bush has been accused of allowing Gerson to slip in “code words” and phrases that allow him to secretly pander to America’s religious right, but this time Bush’s religiously oriented words caught the attention of a different audience.

In the 5,700-word speech, Bush refers to Shia and Sunni Islam ten times. It made up a substantial port of the speech’s foreign policy section and further outlined his administration’s view of Islam extremism. In other words, it was a rather significant policy statement at one of the highest-profile events of the year.

For more, let’s go to the text of the speech:

Our enemies are quite explicit about their intentions. They want to overthrow moderate governments, and establish safe havens from which to plan and carry out new attacks on our country. By killing and terrorizing Americans, they want to force our country to retreat from the world and abandon the cause of liberty. They would then be free to impose their will and spread their totalitarian ideology. Listen to this warning from the late terrorist Zarqawi: “We will sacrifice our blood and bodies to put an end to your dreams, and what is coming is even worse.” Osama bin Laden declared: “Death is better than living on this Earth with the unbelievers among us.”

These men are not given to idle words, and they are just one camp in the Islamist radical movement. In recent times, it has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists who are just as hostile to America, and are also determined to dominate the Middle East. Many are known to take direction from the regime in Iran, which is funding and arming terrorists like Hezbollah — a group second only to al Qaeda in the American lives it has taken.

The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat. Whatever slogans they chant, when they slaughter the innocent they have the same wicked purposes. They want to kill Americans, kill democracy in the Middle East, and gain the weapons to kill on an even more horrific scale.

Maybe I missed something, but in my fairly careful review of all the articles written in major American newspapers after the speech, only one dealt with this loaded section of the speech. That one article would be by The Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler, who must have scrambled to put together his 877-word analysis — or, as the Post dubbed it, a For the Record column — that slices and dices that section of the speech with background information:

In his State of the Union address last night, President Bush presented an arguably misleading and often flawed description of “the enemy” that the United States faces overseas, lumping together disparate groups with opposing ideologies to suggest that they have a single-minded focus in attacking the United States.

Under Bush’s rubric, a country such as Iran — which enjoys diplomatic representation and billions of dollars in trade with major European countries — is lumped together with al-Qaeda, the terrorist group responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. “The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat,” Bush said, referring to the different branches of the Muslim religion.

Similarly, Bush asserted that Shia Hezbollah, which has won seats in the Lebanese government, is a terrorist group “second only to al-Qaeda in the American lives it has taken.” Bush is referring to attacks nearly a quarter-century ago on a U.S. embassy and a Marine barracks when the United States intervened in Lebanon’s civil war by shelling Hezbollah strongholds. Hezbollah has evolved into primarily an anti-Israeli militant organization — it fought a war with Israel last summer — but the European Union does not list it as a terrorist organization.

I am not going to take issue with the specifics of the article at this point, since its mere existence is to me is a major accomplishment for an American media organization. My only complaint is that the piece appeared on page 13. The folks over at The Conservative Voice didn’t seem to like the piece that much, but their complaints have less to do with the facts than with what they see as an attempt by the “Mainstream Media” to destroy “the American right.” I give Kessler credit for at least addressing the issue.

Bush’s remarks are causing a firestorm overseas, but it seems that American journalists are either ignoring them or waiting for something more significant to develop, such as military preparations to attack Iran. Maybe then American journalists will get serious about covering the differences between the groups that Bush just decided to lump together as enemies of the United States.

Alas, I have no doubt that more reaction pieces to this section of Bush’s speech are in the works as I write this commentary, but the delay and lack of attention is disappointing. I have not done a thorough review of the cable news channels or the network newscasts, but from what I’ve seen, this issue is not getting much attention on that medium either.

Photo courtesy of White House photographer Paul Morse.

Editor’s note: comments on this post need to be related to the media’s coverage of this issue otherwise they will be hastily deleted. This is not a place to discuss whether Hezbollah is a terrorist organization or not. There are other places for that discussion.

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  • evagrius

    I just saw a statistic in Time magazine stating that 0% of FBI agents can speak Arabic fluently and only 33 agents can speak Arabic to any degree.
    Only 1400 out of 12,000 agents can speak or somewhat comprehend a foreign language and 900 of these are familiar only with Spanish.
    I don’t think the State Department has any better statistics.

    It’s a matter of ignorance, sheer ignorance, that stems from arrogance.

    Bush’s statements just reflect that ignorance and arrogance to the highest degree.

  • Brian

    For Mr. Kessler to try and pretend that Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization because the European Union doesn’t call it one is laughable. Regardless of what any transnational club puts out in their press releases, Hezbollah’s actions make it quite plain to any thinking individual what they are.

    As for Pres. Bush allegedly “lump[ing] together” Sunni & Shiite totalitarianism, what’s incorrect in what he said? I don’t think a plausible argument can be made that he even implies any tight connection between AQ & Iran, unlike the “Axis of Evil” brouhaha from several years back.

    “The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat.”
    That’s no more incorrect than it would have been for FDR to say in the 1930s that “Nazi and Soviet extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat.”

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Until he attacked Poland Hitler had diplomatic relations and trade with many European countries- so Iran having such proves Zilch. Gesslers’ typical Post column strikes me as more ignorant liberal ostrich head burying rather than a reliable background piece. Bush was apparently careful to say Sunni or Shia EXTREMISTS. As an Irish Catholic I have no trouble with people or nations wanting to defend themselves from Irish Catholic violent EXTREMISTS such as the IRA. But then when it comes to the violent IRA noone coddles them the way the MSM coddles Moslem EXTREMISTS these days. (Musn’t break ranks with the diversity PC fanatics).

  • http://postwatchblog.com Christopher Fotos

    Hezbollah has evolved into primarily an anti-Israeli militant organization — it fought a war with Israel last summer — but the European Union does not list it as a terrorist organization.

    There is so much to take apart in Kessler’s piece, but this will do for now. If the European Union does not list as a terrorist organization a group that launches rockets randomly into civilian areas with the hope of killing unarmed innocents, well that’s the European Union’s problem, isn’t it?

  • dpulliam

    I think Kessler’s point is that Bush’s viewpoint on Hezbollah is not accepted by everyone in the international community. He should be credited for raising that point because it is very relevant to the policy Bush is putting forward.

    Kessler is not giving an opinion on whether the European position on Hezbollah is the right one, he is just stating a FACT that is relevant.

  • evagrius

    One man’s terrorism is another man’s act of war.

    Hezbollah certainly doesn’t deserve sympathy but neither do the actions of Israel vis-a-vis the Palestinians,on the West Bank or Gaza.

    In both cases, those who are harmed the most have done the least to deserve that harm.

  • Brian

    Mr. Pulliam: If US Presidents are only able to make statements that are “accepted by everyone in the international community” then there won’t be a whole lot to say, now will there?

  • dpulliam

    What’s your point Brian?

  • Don Neuendorf

    One man’s terrorism is another man’s act of war.

    Sure, the piddling difference being that one of them makes war on noncombatants, women, children, people on buses and in restaurants – and the other makes war on those with the guns and bombs. (Or tries to – which is tough when these bold warriors are hiding behind, or even WEARING, the skirts of innocent women).

    Kessler accuses Bush of “lumping together” Sunni and Shia extremists. Why is this considered evidence of Bush’s “ignorance and arrogance” (Evagrius)? The Sunni and Shia have far more in common than they have in difference – and certainly they both have adequate interest in attacking the West, which is really the point in question, isn’t it?

    While most Americans, and even very many legislators, don’t seem to know the difference between the two groups, I think it’s good to know that the president does. He at least seems to know more than Glenn Kessler.

  • dpulliam


    Nobody is saying that Sunni and Shia extremists don’t have similarities. Kessler’s point is that there are some critical differences that might be worth considering when laying out foreign policy.

  • Jerry

    There’s a fundamental question of world view that shows up in the press and here when issues like this come up. It tends to be ‘black/white’ versus shades of grey. Op ed pieces could cover this by one of the following:

    President Bush tonight focused on all terrorists, whether Sunni or Shi’a who are attacking democratic values.

    President Bush tonight ignored the very real differences between various organizations and lumped them all together as ‘evil’.

    President Bush tonight conflated those organizations who are attacking Israel with those who form a direct threat to the security of the United States.

    President Bush tonight said nothing new repeating what he’s said since 9/11.

    I suspect the later is a big part of why that part of the speech was not covered. Is it news when the same message is repeated?

  • dpulliam


    Great point in that this changes little of what Bush has said in the past. But consider what else in this speech was new from this administration? Not much and what was new had already been dribbled out. It’s worth exploring if only because it is the big speech of the year and a lot of Americans tuned in to check it out.

  • Brian

    Mr. Pulliam: My point is that Mr. Kessler should no more “be credited” for pointing out that not everyone agrees with everything Pres. Bush says or the way he says it than he would be for inserting any other blindingly obvious comment that adds zero content to his column.

  • dpulliam


    I am still slightly confused but I think I know what you’re trying to say. I think Kessler should be credited since he has been so far the only person to point out that there are relevant facts that should be considered in the context of this section of Bush’s speech. If others started doing more of the same, then yes, Kessler should receive less credit unless of course we all decided that his commentary was somehow the best. But at this point, it’s only Kessler’s piece we have to evaluate.

  • mike

    Perhaps the facts presented by Pres. Bush were not considered flashy and newsworthy enough. Perhaps he has grown tired of speaking in PC terms about Islamic Fascism.
    Shia or Sunni they are all dedicated to the same end: conquest and world domination. Both branches are known, proven sponsers of and participants in terrorist acts.
    Perhaps a comparison could be made between the Sunnis and Shites and a totalitarian paralellel could be drawn with the Nazis and the Communists. Then, perhaps we could somehow set them against each other… Just so long as we don’t make the mistake of an alliance with one of them.

  • Stephen

    Let’s look at this statement again:

    “The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat,” Bush said, referring to the different branches of the Muslim religion.

    He’s not referring to the entire religion here, as the snarky and clearly hostile reporter (and our own columnist here) is attempting to imply, but to the *EXTREMISTS* within these branches of Islam, who are CLEARLY trying to attack us on a daily basis, based on fanatical versions of these religious branches. And that fact is not at all being questioned. By anyone.

    Yes, the speech was ghastly, but for many different reasons, chief among them being it was simply uninspiring. But what’s new about that? If this phrase can be faulted, it can be said that he is (again) stating the obvious.
    This line wasn’t covered in the MSM because, perhaps, IT WASN’T NEWS that terrorists who happen to be Muslims hate us. Perhaps Bush repeated himself because some journalists and politicians don’t yet understand this point.

  • http://dpulliam.com dpulliam

    Stephen, it’s the the phrase or the speech that I think journalists should cover so much, it’s the policy it represents.