In 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.