For Bush, bin Laden is blowing in the wind

The president says that terrorists would have caused Katrina if they could have.

Published September 22, 2005 3:29PM (EDT)

George W. Bush often makes a link between the attacks of 9/11 and the war in Iraq by saying that the insurgents fighting U.S. troops in Iraq now are "followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York, in Washington and Pennsylvania" then.

During a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington yesterday, Bush took things one step further. While the president didn't blame Hurricane Katrina on al-Qaida or the insurgents in Iraq, he said that they would have caused the storm if they could have. "You know," Bush said, "I've been thinking a lot about how America has responded [to Katrina], and it's clear to me that Americans value human life, and value every person as important. And that stands in stark contrast, by the way, to the terrorists we have to deal with. You see, we look at the destruction caused by Katrina, and our hearts break. They're the kind of people who look at Katrina and wish they had caused it."

It's not particularly surprising that Bush would try to wrap Katrina into his global war on terrorism. He has been playing this word association game for a while now -- 9/11 is like Iraq, 9/11 is like Pearl Harbor, Iraq is like World War II and I'm like FDR -- and the storm that ravaged the Gulf Coast is just the latest card in the deck. And as we noted yesterday, a lot of Americans were already linking Katrina and Iraq in their own minds, albeit not in the way the president wanted: Voters' views of Bush's stumbling response to Katrina seem to be coloring their views of the way in which he's handling the war and everything else in his portfolio.

But the war on terrorism has always been Bush's strong suit in the polls, even if "strong suit" is now a relative term: In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, only 43 percent of the public approves of the way in which Bush is handling it. Forty-three percent isn't exactly mandate territory, but it's got to look like a lifeline when your overall approval ratings are a few ticks lower. So in his speech yesterday, Bush said that it's important for Americans to remember that their nation is at war with "evil men who target the suffering." And even if those evil men didn't set the winds a-blowin' in New Orleans, "they killed 3,000 people on September the 11th, 2001, and they've continued to kill."

"See, sometimes we forget about the evil deeds of these people," the president said. "They've killed in Madrid, and Istanbul, and Baghdad, and Bali, and London, and Sharm el-Sheikh, and Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Around the world they continue to kill."

We're not sure what Bush means when he says that "sometimes we forget" about the "evil deeds of these people." Most Americans don't have any trouble remembering that Osama bin Laden attacked their country on 9/11, even if they sometimes think that Saddam Hussein helped him do it. Maybe the president was talking about himself. It was the president, after all, who declared six months after 9/11 that he didn't "spend that much time" on bin Laden and was "truly ... not that concerned about him."

That was back in 2002, when the administration's failure to capture bin Laden was the biggest political liability that Bush needed to minimize. Now that Katrina and Iraq have zoomed to the top of that list, Bush isn't about to forget about bin Laden again -- and he's not going to let the rest of us do so, either.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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George W. Bush Iraq Iraq War Middle East Osama Bin Laden War Room