A Disassociated Press Report, May 27, 2004
US President George W. Bush tried to convince Americans on Monday the war in Iraq could be turned around as the US and Britain asked the UN for a resolution endorsing the handover of power to an interim Iraqi government.
In a half-hour televised speech at the US Army War College, Bush insisted the deteriorating situation was not a reason for despair.
"It's true we don't have a plan," said Bush. "But you can be sure of one thing: we will stay the course."
Bush's job approval rating has fallen to the lowest level of his presidency, suggesting he faces the possibility of defeat in the Nov. 2 election. This speech was considered an important opportunity to persuade voters that the war in Iraq had not gone irretrievably wrong. Bush, however, did not take that opportunity.
"There are difficult days ahead," he said. "The way forward may sometimes appear chaotic. In fact it will almost certainly be chaotic because we don't have a plan and we have steadfastly refused to take advice. Even so we're hoping to hold this puppy together until the elections at least, and maybe beyond. And we have reason to believe that ultimately triumph will be ours."
Bush explained that his reason for confidence was a bird omen he witnessed while at his ranch in Texas.
"I saw an eagle clutching a serpent in its talons," he said. "It is a sign that God is on our side and the enemy is cursed. A great victory lies ahead for us."
This is the first time in a speech that Bush has evoked bird omens as relevant to the war on terror. Although widely known for his strong religious beliefs, the president's mention of omens has surprised some commentators, who note that bird omens in particular are associated with pagan Greece and Rome rather than Christianity.
"We are not really happy with this recourse to pagan practice," said Farley Shagmitt, current chairman of the Southern Evangelical Reformed SS League. "But the president is a man who loves the great outdoors, and if he finds inspiration in an American eagle, then maybe it isn't so un-Christian after all. God created eagles too."
Other commentators noted Bush's mention of the bird omen was oddly similar to a scene in the recently released blockbuster film Troy, starring Brad Pitt. In that film, based on Homer's war poem the Iliad, a Trojan priest at one point refers to an omen of an eagle clutching a serpent as a sign that Troy will win a "great victory."
"I think the president saw the movie and wanted to link his war on terror with the great ancient war between Greeks and Trojans," said Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA). "Unfortunately, what the president failed to note was that finally the Trojans didn't win the war. Instead their city was destroyed by the invading Greeks. Thus this allusion to the movie is misguided: it's confusing and counterproductive, now at a time when we need clarity and direction from our leader."
Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) agreed. "If the president wanted to allude to the Trojan war," she said, "he at least could have put America on the winning side."
During his speech Bush also referred to the prisoner abuse scandal, three times mentioning the Abu Ghraib prison where the scandal first came to light. Each of the three times Bush used the name, however, he mangled it. The first time he called the prison "Abugah Rape," the second time "Abu Garon," and the third time "Abu Garah."
"These bizarre mispronunciations do not necessarily suggest brain damage," Dr. David Wenford of the Harvard School of Psychiatric Medicine said in a telephone interview. "Such stammering over a particular word might also mean the person speaking is hiding something as regards the subject being discussed."
Wenford explained that such mispronunciations often indicate a "fixation" on the word in question, and that such fixations can develop from a feeling of shame or guilt over some hidden truth.
"Given the president's extremely dysfunctional performance on the prison name, I would suggest there may be more gruesome things coming to light in terms of abuse of prisoners."