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Bush at the White House on May 31, "troubled" over the massacre at Haditha [White House photo]

Immoral Equivalencies
A Massacre. A President “Troubled”

President Bush, then, is “troubled” by the Marines’ massacre at Haditha. He is “troubled.” That’s how he summed up his reaction to the massacre while he was welcoming the president of Rwanda, no stranger to massacres, to the White House just before lunch this morning. A reporter asked him what he’d been told about the killings, and whether he was worried about the impact it could have in Iraq. “I am troubled by the initial news stories,” the president replied. “I am mindful that there is a thorough investigation going on. If, in fact, the laws were broken, there will be punishment.” He then went on to chatter tamely and predictably about the Marine Corps without answering a pointed part of the question. Why should he be worried about the effects the massacre could have on Iraq, if he’s not worried about what he’s unleashed there himself for the last three years? But his use of the word troubled, as his choice of describing what he knows of the Haditha massacre, is itself troubling, and revealing: “Troubled” is an all-purpose word for Bush, a throw-away adjective that he’s used in any and every circumstance for lack of an original response that actually connects with the reality he’s asked to describe. His use of the word in so many instances—grave, not so grave, general, vague—renders it meaningless, as if it weren;t so from the start. What, exactly, does being “troubled” mean, other than to suggest non-committal concern designed to seem weighty without having to be meaningful? Don’t take my word for it. Here’s just a quick sampling, with links back to the original documents, of Bush’s uses of the word since he came to office (keeping in mind that it’s a very quick and cursory sampling: the uses go on and on and on in the same vein). What this means is that in Bush’s eyes, the massacre at Haditha is on par with “troubling” job numbers, with reading gaps for white and black children, with gay marriage, with bankrupt pensions, and so on:

  • A couple of weeks back, on May 18, the White House called itself, “deeply troubled by the continued prosecution and imprisonment of Egyptian politician Ayman Nour.”
  • On March 23, 2004, he was asked about the Israeli assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Yassim: “As far as the Middle East , it’s a troubled region, and the attacks were troubling.”
  • On February 4, 2004, he found the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage “deeply troubling,”
  • He was “troubled,” on June 10, 2003, by an Israeli helicopter attack that killed several Palestinian civilians. “I regret the loss of innocent life.”
  • On July 2, 2002, he went for a hat trick: “The International Criminal Court is troubling to the United States . It’s troubling to the administration, and obviously trouble with the United States Senate as well.
  • On June 29, 2002, in his radio address, he said that “[t]his week, we learned of another deeply troubling accounting scandal at a major American corporation.”
  • On January 10, 2002: “One of the things we’re deeply concerned about is that there have been a wave of bankruptcies that have caused many workers to lose their pensions, and that’s deeply troubling to me.”
  • On December 7, 2001, Pearl Harbor Day: “Today’s unemployment numbers are troubling.” (So troubling that he devoted all of 96 words to the matter, and only to push a wave of tax cuts. His Hanukkah message that day was almost twice as long.)
  • On August 1, 2001: “… almost two-thirds of African American children in the 4 th grade cannot read at basic grade level. For white children, that figure is 27 percent. The gap is wide and troubling.”
  • On January 29, 2001, when he was asked about Clinton ’s pardon of Mark Rich: “I was troubled by the decision the President made.”

“The interesting thing about Rwanda today,” Bush said, during his appearance with the Rwandan president today, “is that you have a President who understands that part of a successful society is for people to work hard on reconciliation.” Another curious irony for a man who long ago gave up being the promised “uniter” in order to focus on being the “decider.” But then this is not a man who’s ever been troubled by the obvious.

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