March 31, 2008—Events of the last week offer a metaphorical glimpse at the delusion pervading President George W. Bush’s White House and other enclaves of Iraq War supporters in Washington.
At the American Enterprise Institute, war-cheerleaders – dressed as academicians – were delivering a panegyric on how peaceful and stable the situation in Iraq had become. The “surge,” they announced, had nipped a civil war in the bud.
“The civil war is over,” AEI’s Fred Kagan, co-author of the surge, declared proudly. Brookings twins Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack led the cheering section.
Meanwhile, back in the southern Iraq city of Basra and elsewhere, full-blown civil war seemed about to explode. And in Baghdad, formerly protected folks were getting killed by mortar and rocket fire in what is customarily referred to as “the highly fortified Green Zone,” which has sequestered U.S. embassy and military officials as well as those of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government.
Two American officials and two Iraqi guards of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi died in the Green Zone attacks.
At ABC in New York, Good Morning America’s Diane Sawyer was trying hard Thursday to understand it all.
Shaking her head in disbelief after four straight days of attacks on the Green Zone, she asked how a round “can actually get inside the embassy; how fortified is that?”
ABC national security correspondent Jonathan Karl let her down easy, explaining that artillery fire can actually get “over the walls...so it does happen: they do get inside the embassy compound.”
A teaching moment. Mortar and artillery fire can actually get “over the walls.” Quick. Someone tell Gen. David Petraeus.
No need to drag the president away from the Easter Bunny with such nettlesome detail.
Interestingly, it was Sawyer herself who asked Bush, during an interview on Dec. 16, 2003, where he gets his news and how he reacts to criticism. The president’s answer was revealing:
“Why even put up with it when you can get the facts elsewhere? I’m a lucky man. I’ve got...it’s not just Condi and Andy [Andy Card, former chief of staff], it’s all kinds of people in my administration who are charged with different responsibilities, and they come in and say this is what’s happening, this isn’t what’s happening.”
By Thursday of last week, someone did tell the president about Maliki’s big gamble in taking on militias loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr in the Basra area, the stiff resistance Iraqi government forces encountered, and the application of U.S. ground and air support.
And someone told the president to take the line that the outbreak of major violence was “a positive moment,” and so that’s what he said.
No matter that the upsurge in hostilities threatened to demolish the myth of a “successful surge.” The White House spin machine could be counted on to take care of that.
And, for good measure, the shelling of the Green Zone could be blamed on Iran. Indeed, Petraeus was quick to label the projectiles “Iranian-provided, Iranian-made rockets.”
It is comfortable to stay in denial, and President George W. Bush basks in it.
Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska saw that early on. In June 2005, he told U.S. News & World Report:
“The White House is completely disconnected from reality...it’s like they’re just making it up as they go along.”
Would that someone had the courage to tell Bush of the late William F. Buckley, Jr.’s observations about Iraq in the National Review on Feb. 24, 2006:
“Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans...Mr. Bush has a very difficult internal problem here because to make the kind of concession that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies he has several times affirmed in high-flown pronouncements. His challenge is to persuade himself that he can submit to a historical reality...different plans have to be made. And the kernel here is the acknowledgement of defeat.”
A few months later, on June 13, 2006, Bush flew to Baghdad to size up Prime Minister Maliki. The president told American troops gathered in the “heavily fortified Green Zone” that he had come “to look Prime Minister Maliki in the eyes—to determine whether or not he is as dedicated to a free Iraq as you are. I believe he is.”
This, of course, was not the first display of the president’s propensity to draw significant impressions from eyeballing foreign leaders. Five years before, Bush had quickly taken the measure of Russia’s Vladimir Putin: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy...I was able to get a sense of his soul.”
Souls can change, I suppose. But apparently not eyeballs.
Maliki’s retinal scan apparently remains valid for at least two years, judging from the president’s automatic endorsement of Maliki’s major gamble last week in the Basra area.
Bush has now ordered U.S. ground and air units to support Maliki’s effort. The general objective is to root out Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army units in the area, but the campaign faces formidable obstacles and does not appear to be going well.
In the past, Bush has let himself be convinced by Vice President Dick Cheney’s “analysis” that increased enemy attacks were signs of desperation—an indication that the enemy is in its “last throes,” if you will.
And it seems clear that Cheney is still, as Col. Larry Wilkerson has put it, “whispering in Bush’s ear.”
That is scary. There were abundant signs during Cheney’s recent visit to the Middle East that, among other things, he continues to be receptive to Israeli importuning, as Israeli president Shimon Perez put it on March 23, to deal with what both referred to as “the Iranian threat” before Bush leaves office.
Bush and Cheney seem to have given Israeli leaders the impression that the Bush administration has made a commitment to do precisely that.
Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who was national security adviser to the president’s father and who was appointed chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board by the son, took the unusual step of going public with a startling remark in October 2004 that should give us all great concern.
Just before he was sacked, the usually discreet Scowcroft told the Financial Times that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had George W. Bush “mesmerized.” Eyeballing again—this time in Bush’s direction, it appears.
And Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, with masterful tutoring from the psychologists in the Israeli Mossad, has shown he can duplicate the spell.
Who can forget watching Olmert’s fulsome praise of George W. Bush during his recent visit to Israel and how Bush seemed to turn to putty. Aw shucks, he seemed to be saying; at least the Israelis respect me. And they are “mighty tough fellas.”
The point is that if Cheney and Olmert both whisper “attack Iran,” the president may give the order with the full expectation that—with Admiral William Fallon out of the way—a malleable secretary of defense and martinet generals and admirals left over from former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s reign will salute smartly and launch a much wider and more dangerous war in the Persian Gulf area.
(After all, those rockets hitting the Green Zone are, according to Gen. Petraeus, “Iranian-provided, Iranian-made.”)
Why attack Iran? Israeli leaders have insisted publicly that they want this done before Bush and Cheney leave office.
And also, well, just because! Because, as Bush is fond of saying, he is commander in chief. And he considers the U.S. armed forces his plaything. And because he can. Never mind the consequences.
When has anyone had the courage to hold George W. Bush accountable for consequences?
Worse still, Bush’s open-ended rhetorical commitment to defend Israel if attacked could spell big trouble. If Iran were to strike Israel, Bush has said, “We will defend our ally (sic), no ifs, ands, or buts.”
That is great rhetoric; trouble is that it surrenders the initiative to the Israelis, who have it within their power to provoke the Iranians.
Bush chafes at any thought that those he considers his father’s cronies could rein him in. Bete noire number one is the fella the president calls “Jimmy Baker.”
Negotiate with Iran? Draw down troops? George W. Bush will instinctively do the opposite. If Baker says Guantanamo should be shut down (as he did, joining five other former secretaries of state last week), then keep it open.
But, most of all, enjoy the last 10 months of “unitary executive” power.
That is perhaps most disturbing of all. George W. Bush is tap dancing through it all. And the worse things get, the more jocular he seems to become.
Commenting on Bush’s recent manic behavior, Justin Frank, M.D., author of Bush on the Couch, suggests that Bush is “acting like a kid planning to make a real mess as only he knows how—given his comfort with sadism; his lack of shame or conscience; and his propensity to take delight in breaking things.”
Trouble is that as he tap dances the next few months away, he is systematically destroying the armed forces of the United States, and there does not seem to be anyone with the courage to try to stop him.
Eight months ago, Dr. Frank and Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) collaborated on an article we called “Dangers of a Cornered Bush.” Since the president and his imperial court have 10 more months to act out, the scenarios we explored in that memo are still worth pondering.
Let me close with a remark Seymour Hersh made last year, even though it may seem flippant and in no way conveys the enormity of the danger we face in the coming months:
“These guys are scary as hell...you can’t use the word ‘delusional,’ for it’s actually a medical term. Wacky. That’s a fair word.”
With so much destructive power at the disposal of George W. Bush, we need to be increasingly alert to signs that additional delusionary policies are about to be executed.
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This story was published on March 31, 2008.