As Washington awaits Plame indictments, Bush talks terror -- again

Who can be bothered with scandals back home when an enemy is trying to "enslave whole nations and intimidate the world"?

Published October 6, 2005 2:43PM (EDT)

As Washington holds its breath for news of indictments in the Valerie Plame case, the president is addressing the nation again about the global war on terror. Coincidence? Maybe. But there's nothing like a few words about 9/11 to remind Americans that George W. Bush is their wartime president and not just the man who presides over a scandal-ridden administration and a well-indicted political party.

Will it work this time around? Wagging the dog is one thing, but Bush has a whole kennel of hounds yapping at his heels now. Plamegate is the big dog, of course, even if criminal charges there are still the subject of rumor and speculation. But the Republican House majority leader has been indicted. The president's chief procurement officer has been indicted. A lobbyist at the center of the Republican power structure has been indicted. More indictments may come soon in his case, the investigation into the Republican Senate majority leader is just beginning, and now there are questions about the financial dealings of the new Republican House majority leader.

Have we mentioned 9/11 recently? The president just did, five times in the course of a single speech.

Bush brushed off a question about Plamegate at his press conference this week, saying that he wouldn't comment about an ongoing investigation. Presumably, he would have given the same answer if anyone had asked him about Tom DeLay, David Safavian, Jack Abramoff or Bill Frist. With his speech today, Bush is trying to push all of that back behind the curtain. How could anyone care about scandals, about a government that showed itself incapable of responding to a national disaster, about a Supreme Court nominee who may not be up to the job, when we're facing an enemy who seeks to "enslave whole nations and intimidate the world"?

It's not a bad argument, actually -- or at least it wouldn't be if the Bush administration could claim more success in combating such an enemy. But the last time we checked, insurgents in Iraq were still blowing up mosques, American soldiers were still getting killed by roadside bombs and Osama bin Laden was still winning over new recruits. Bush said this morning that Americans must never accept "anything less than complete victory" over the terrorist threat, and maybe that's right. But until he starts delivering it, it's going to be hard for him to use his "progress" in the war on terror as a screen for his problems back home.

By Tim Grieve

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

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9/11 George W. Bush Iraq Iraq War Karl Rove Middle East War Room