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Osama bin Laden and the World Trade Center   |   Hamas and the World Trade Center   |   President Bush, Colin Powell, and the  Missing Possessive Pronouns   |   Congressman Gary Condit's Interview
President Bush, Colin Powell, and the  Missing Possessive Pronouns

Secretary of State Colin Powell in NBC-TV's Today program on October 10, 2001, said:
"We will always support Israel's security. And it is the democratic nation in the region that we absolutely treasure as a friend."

Please notice the missing possessive pronoun "my" (or "our") in regard to "friend".  As a matter of fact, the label "a friend" has an inner contradiction.  On one hand, the word "friend" indicates closeness.  On the other hand, the missing possessive pronoun "my" indicates distance.

One should note that Secretary Powell needed to come out with this declaration after the Israeli Prime Minister's "Czechoslovakia speech" in which he warned the democratic countries, including the U.S., not to appease the Arab countries at the expense of Israel.

Secretary Powell continued: "So there should be no concern on the part of any Israel citizen or leader that the United States would ever do anything to sell them out or trade away their security."

Should his words quiet Israel's fears?  Let's examine them more closely.  Secretary Powell talks about two possible events - "selling out" and "trading away".  Is it possible that Secretary Powell might give Israel away for free?  No wonder that an "Israeli source" in Prime Minister Sharon's office labeled Secretary Powell as "pro-Arab" while President Bush was labeled as "pro-Israel".

So, the Israeli assessment of Secretary Powell has some linguistic evidence.  And what about the assessment of President Bush?

Let's examine what President Bush said that caused so much commotion in Israel. At a meeting of the Arab league, which convened to discuss the U.S. preparations regarding the international coalition against terrorism on October 3, 2001, President Bush said:  "The idea of a Palestinian state has always been part of a vision, so long as the right to an Israeli state is respected."

Again, we find the missing possessive pronoun "my" (or "our").  Is it President Bush's vision?  Is it the administration's vision?  He didn't say.  We know for sure that it was former President Clinton's vision.  Maybe that's what President Bush referred to.  A Palestinian state is part of "a vision", but not his.

These striking differences between President Bush and his Secretary of State Colin Powell were expressed in Secretary Powell's own words.  On August 3, 2001, he said: "Do we argue about things? Sure. Do we have to debate issues from time to time? Yes. But I'm pleased to be part of this administration and I can assure you that Mr Rumsfeld, Dr Rice, the President, Mr Cheney, we're all getting along just fine." (August 3, 2001)

The order of appearance in the sentence is quite enlightening.  One would have expected that Secretary Powell would mention the President first, Vice President second - according to their order of importance.  But he didn't.  He put the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Advisor between himself and the President.  One can assume that the distance inside the sentence between the Secretary and the President might reflect distance in reality between the two.

Please also notice the following:

1.    The Secretary mentioned two different activities: "arguing" and "debating".   

"Change of language reflects a change in reality."  That means that these two words relate to two different activities.  While they "have to" debate, they argue - without having to.

2.    "…this administration" - not "the administration".  There is only one administration that runs the U.S. government at one time.  So, to use "this" might refer to some other administration which Secretary Powell was part of.  In short, it could be perceived as lack of total loyalty.

3.    "… we're all getting along just fine."  He could have said, "… we're all getting along fine."  But to add the word "just" could mean that the level of "getting along" is not according to Secretary Powell's expectations.  It is only "just fine".  It could have been more than fine.