Thursday, February 19, 2015

Not the right stuff to cringe at

I'm no fan of Jeb Bush, or his foreign policy, but this is ridiculous. None of those six gaffes matter, nor do they reveal anything about what a third Bush presidency would mean for American foreign policy. Specifically:

#1 "He Mixed up Iran and Iraq."

This would be a problem if Jeb mixed them up in a way that demonstrated that he did not understand the difference between the two. But instead what happened is he said this that the Obama Administration's "approach to Iraq...excuse me, Iran." That's just a slip of the tongue. It can happen to anyone. All it reveals about Jeb is that he is a human being.

#2  "He accidentally multiplied ISIS's military strength by 10 times, saying that the group had 200,000 fighters when CIA estimates say they've got between 20,000 and 31,500. (A spokesperson later emailed reporters to say he misspoke.)"

In a prepared speech where he cites specific facts, he should get those facts right. On the other hand, even Zack Beauchamp characterizes it as an "accident" and the mistake was later corrected by a spokesperson. Once again we are left with the shocking revelation that Jeb Bush can make a mistake.

#3 "He called Ukraine 'the Ukraine,' which Ukrainians object to because it implies that they're a territory and not a rightfully independent country."

Yes, some Ukrainians have objected to the "the" before the name of their country and officially there is no definite article there. But Ukraine was known as "the Ukraine" prior to 1991 and it wasn't universally dropped by English language news publications until the Ukrainian government asked them to in 1993. It is very easy to make a mistake and accidentally say "the Ukraine" if that is what you were used to saying for years.

Also, while I respect the Ukrainian's right to have their country called whatever they want, the claim that "the Ukraine" implies that it is not an independent country is simply wrong. There are several countries whose name in English is preceded with a definite article, countries such as "the Netherlands" to the lesser known "the Gambia," or even this place you may have heard of called "the United States of America" (also known as "the United States"). No one ever questions American independence because of the "the."

#4 "He called ISIS caliph Abu Bakr al Baghdadi 'the guy that's the supreme leader or whatever his new title is — head of the caliphate.'"

The title that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi claims for himself is Caliph (Caliphates are ruled by caliphs, just as kingdoms are ruled by kings, empires are ruled by emperors, and emirates are ruled by emirs). But U.S. government officials have avoided using that title for al-Baghdadi because they do not recognize him as a legitimate ruler deserving of any title. I would argue it would be worse if Jeb had referred to al-Baghdadi as "the Caliph." But without an official title that someone like Jeb Bush can use, it is not clear what he should be called. Jeb's struggle with the proper title for the guy seems entirely appropriate to me.

#5 "He mispronounced Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, sounding more like 'bow-coo haram.'"

Americans mispronounce foreign words all the time. For whatever reason, some mispronunciations no one makes a big deal about and others are viewed as a major gaffe. I don't speak Hausa. I don't know how a native speaker of that language would say "Boko." I do know that no one in the English media pronounces "haram" like it sounds in the original Arabic (the first letter (ح) makes a sound that does not exist in English, but is kinda similar to an "h" so it usually gets transliterated using that letter despite the fact that there is a completely different Arabic letter (ه) that makes a sound that is more like the English "h"). As far as I am concerned, as long as we can tell what Jeb is referring to when he says "'bow-coo haram" that is fine. Otherwise, I get to yell any anyone who ever says "Eye-rak" instead of "al-3iraaq" for العراق (and yes, "Iraq" has a definite article in Arabic but no one claims that means it is not an independent country)

#6 "He weirdly talked about how he 'forced myself to go visit Asia four times a year' as if it were a hardship."

Okay, that is pretty weird. But it doesn't tell me much about whether he would make a good president.

There is plenty of real things to criticize in Jeb Bush's speech. His use of passive voice, for example, shows that he clearly is unwilling to talk about who is responsible for the disaster that was the Iraq War, which is particularly important since a lot of Jeb's foreign policy advisers were the architects of that war. That's a good point. How he pronounces things or momentary slips of the tongue are not.