The Planet of Unreality

By Eugene Robinson
Tuesday, March 21, 2006

This is not good. The people running this country sound convinced that reality is whatever they say it is. And if they've actually strayed into the realm of genuine self-delusion -- if they actually believe the fantasies they're spinning about the bloody mess they've made in Iraq over the past three years -- then things are even worse than I thought.

Here is reality: The Bush administration's handpicked interim Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi, told the BBC on Sunday, "We are losing each day an average of 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is. Iraq is in the middle of a crisis. Maybe we have not reached the point of no return yet, but we are moving towards this point. . . . We are in a terrible civil conflict now."

Here is self-delusion: Dick Cheney went on "Face the Nation" a few hours later and said he disagreed with Allawi -- who, by the way, is a tad closer to the action than the quail-hunting veep. There's no civil war, Cheney insisted. Move along, nothing to see here, pay no attention to those suicide bombings and death-squad murders. As an aside, Cheney insisted that his earlier forays into the Twilight Zone -- U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators, the insurgency is in its "last throes" -- were "basically accurate and reflect reality."

Maybe on his home planet.

Donald Rumsfeld, meanwhile, was busy on The Post's op-ed page, abusing history. Leaving Iraq now, he wrote, "would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis." The bizarre analogy was immediately disputed by foreign policy sages Henry Kissinger (who noted that there was "no significant resistance movement" in Germany after World War II) and Zbigniew Brzezinski (who just called the comparison "absolutely crazy'').

George W. Bush, who speaks as if he has ascended to an even higher plane of unreality, marked the third anniversary of the invasion Sunday by touting a "strategy that will lead to victory in Iraq." I know that "victory" is a word that focus groups love, but did anyone else hear an echo of Richard Nixon's "secret plan" to end the war in Vietnam? Does anyone else remember that there was no "secret plan''?

It's reprehensible when our highest elected officials act cynically, as I believe this administration has done -- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest knew the evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was less than conclusive, but they hyped it anyway to build support for an invasion they were determined to launch. It's dangerous when our leaders act cluelessly, and the Bush White House has done plenty of that as well -- experts who called for a much bigger invasion force were silenced and shoved aside, assurances that Iraqi oil revenue would defray U.S. costs turned out to be a sick joke, and there was no effective plan to get the electricity turned on, much less deal with thousands of insurgents.

But cynicism and cluelessness are one thing. Actually being divorced from reality is another. Do Bush et al. really see only the democratic process they have installed in Iraq and not the bitter sectarian conflict that process has been unable to quell? Do they realize that whatever happens, there's not going to be a neat package, tied up with a bow, labeled "victory" -- certainly in the 34 months (but who's counting?) that the Bush administration has left in office?

Rumsfeld, I think, gets it. "History is a bigger picture, and it takes some time and perspective to measure accurately," he wrote in his op-ed piece, the whole tone of which reminded me of Fidel Castro's famous declaration as he was being jailed after his first, failed attempt at revolution: "History will absolve me." Condoleezza Rice seems to get it, too, telling Australians the other day that "beyond my lifetime" people would appreciate what the administration had done for the Middle East.

But what about the two men at the top?

Cheney lamented this weekend that "what's newsworthy is the car bomb in Baghdad," and "not all the work that went on that day in 15 other provinces in terms of making progress towards rebuilding Iraq." Yesterday Bush recounted a successful anti-insurgent operation in one town, calling it a good-news story that people wouldn't see in their newspapers or on their television screens.

Fine, blaming the media is a time-honored tactic. I just hope they're being cynical about it. I hope they don't really believe the nonsense they're trying to sell.

The writer will take questions today at 2:30 p.m. on His e-mail address

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