Reading Tea Leaves

May 2004

We have a little quiz for you. We want you to determine whether the following quote is pro-Bush, anti-Bush, neutral, or ambiguous. Here it is: “The events of 9/11/2001 and the U.S. wars on Afghanistan and Iraq tempt Americans to retreat into isolationism…. The continuing war on terrorism and the rebuilding of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the role the United States is playing, calls for Americans to reengage the world. It’s time to stop circling the wagons and think of how all citizens of this world can work together better” (ellipsis in original).

O.K., what’s you decision? Pro-Bush, anti-Bush, neutral, or ambiguous?

Here’s how we parse the quote: “The events of 9/11/2001 and the U.S. wars on Afghanistan and Iraq [possibly anti-Bush; had it said in, it would clearly be neutral] tempt Americans to retreat into isolationism [pro-Bush; the isolationists didn’t want the U.S. to go to war in Afghanistan and especially Iraq, and those who are calling for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan and Iraq are isolationists]…. The continuing war on terrorism and the rebuilding of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the role the United States is playing [pro-Bush; implies that we are successfully rebuilding those two countries and that we should continue with our rebuilding efforts], calls for Americans to reengage the world [ambiguous; we are engaging the world, so what it would mean to reengage the world is unclear, unless it’s an oblique call to involve the U.N. and much of Europe in the rebuilding efforts]. It’s time to stop circling the wagons [pro-Bush; let’s not be tempted to draw inward, bug out of Afghanistan and Iraq, and forget the world, though if it means we’re dissing the U.N. and much of Europe it could be anti-Bush] and think of how all citizens of this world can work together better [ambiguous mush].”

All in all, our conclusion is this: The statement is fundamentally ambiguous, a muddled attempt to please all sides and offend no one.

But that’s not how Deal Hudson read it (Crisis editorial, Feb. 2004). Hudson says it is an “outburst” of “America-bashing” and “a blatantly ideological screed” against President Bush’s foreign policy.


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New Oxford Notes: May 2004

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