PHILADELPHIA -- Of all the misleading speeches about terrorism given by the Bush team in the lead-up to the 9/11 anniversary, the prize for chutzpah goes to Donald H. Rumsfeld.
In a recent pitch to the American Legion, the defense secretary noted the failure of "a great many" to recognize the rise of Hitler and fascism in 1939. He then accused unnamed pols of eagerness to appease "vicious extremists." Then he charged that "moral or intellectual confusion" is sapping the war on terrorism and the fight in Iraq.
Moral and intellectual confusion? Mr. Rumsfeld's text and the latest speeches by President Bush are riddled with both - to the detriment of America's safety.
This was the moment for the president to try to unite the country behind a long and continuing struggle against a wide variety of terrorist threats. Instead, he sent Mr. Rumsfeld (and Vice President Dick Cheney) out to accuse administration critics of "appeasement."
Can Mr. Rumsfeld name one prominent critic, on either side of the aisle, who wants to appease al-Qaida? The great debate is over how best to thwart Islamist terrorists. What many Bush critics fear is that White House policies play into al-Qaida's hands.
That fear wasn't allayed by the speeches of the president and his team.
Constant references to Hitler mislead the public about the nature of the struggle. The ideology of radical Islamist terrorist groups is indeed evil, but World War II analogies delude Americans into thinking the struggle can be won by conventional battles or bombing.
The president's newly released counterterrorism strategy describes how al-Qaida has morphed into loose networks of terrorists with no central command structure. One of the biggest potential threats comes from disaffected Europeans, such as the Britons of Pakistani Muslim descent accused of having planned multiple plane bombs. The British cell was caught via determined efforts by British police and intelligence officials, who cooperated across borders. This is exactly the kind of "law enforcement" activity that Mr. Rumsfeld derided in his speech.
Mr. Rumsfeld - and President Bush - also denounced the idea that you can "negotiate a separate peace with [Sunni] extremists." This is another straw man. No one of either party is proposing such a thing.
The president talks of using diplomacy to prevent Shiite Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Yet he lumps "Shiite extremists" together with Sunni al-Qaida (even though Iran and al-Qaida despise each other). Here is where the intellectual confusion of the White House approach shines through like a 150-watt bulb.
Rumors are swirling that Mr. Bush wants to bomb Iran's nuclear-research sites before he leaves office. Yet, if we bomb Iran, Tehran is bound to retaliate against U.S. interests in Iraq, where it has many agents and is allied with Iraq's Shiite leaders. Bombing Iran would doom any slim U.S. hopes of salvaging stability in Baghdad. It would also thrill al-Qaida and its offshoots by providing an endless stream of new Muslim recruits.
The contradiction between our Iraq and Iran policies displays intellectual confusion at its worst.
But the maximum level of confusion in the 9/11 anniversary speeches revolves around the claim that "Iraq ... is the central front in our fight against terrorism." Yes, Iraq has become a training center for jihadi terrorists - which it wasn't before Saddam Hussein fell. But the reason for Iraq's descent into postwar hell is the administration's arrogance and incompetence - which, of course, the president does not admit in his speeches. This denial creates a black hole of moral and intellectual dishonesty at the heart of the Bush rhetoric.
The worst of it is that the president may indeed believe what he says.
Trudy Rubin is a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun. Her e-mail is email@example.com.