Home > The bubble boy Bush lives in a world immune from the realities of Iraq.
The bubble boy Bush lives in a world immune from the realities of Iraq.by Open-Publishing - Saturday 25 September 2004
By Sidney Blumenthal
The news is grim, but the president
is "optimistic." The intelligence is sobering, but he
tosses aside "pessimistic predictions." His opponent
says he has "no credibility," but the president replies
that it is his rival who is "twisting in the wind." The
secretary general of the United Nations speaks of the
"rule of law," but Bush talks before a mute General
Assembly of "a new definition of security." Between the
rhetoric and the reality lies the campaign.
A reliable source who has just returned after assessing
the facts on the ground for U.S. intelligence services
told me that in Iraq, U.S. commanders have plans for
this week and the next, but that there is "no
overarching strategy." The New York Times reports an
offensive is in the works to capture the insurgent
stronghold of Fallujah — after the election. In the
meantime, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other al-Qaida-
linked terrorists operate from there at will, as they
have for more than a year. The president speaks of new
Iraqi security forces, but not even half of the U.S.
personnel have been assigned to the headquarters of the
Multinational Security Transition Command.
Bush’s vision of the liberation of Iraq as the
restaging of the liberation of France — justified by
his unearthing of Saddam Hussein’s fearful weapons of
mass destruction; paid for by the flow of cheap oil;
and leading to the establishment of democracy, regime
change in Iran and Syria, and the quiescence of stunned
Palestinians — has melted before harsh facts. But
reality cannot be permitted to obscure the image. The
liberation is "succeeding," he insists, and only
pessimists cannot see it.
In July, the CIA delivered to the president a new
National Intelligence Estimate that details three
gloomy scenarios of the future of Iraq ranging up to
civil war. Perhaps it was his reading of the NIE that
prompted Bush to remark in August that the war on
terrorism could not be won, a judgment he swiftly
reversed. But at the United Nations, Bush held a press
conference at which he rebuffed the latest
intelligence: "The CIA laid out a — several scenarios
that said life could be lousy, life could be OK, life
could be better. And they were just guessing as to what
the conditions might be like."
With that, Bush explained that for him intelligence is
not to be used to inform decision making but to be
accepted or rejected to advance an ideological and
political agenda. His dismissal is an affirmation of
the politicization and corruption of intelligence that
rationalized the war.
In his stump speech, repeated word for word across the
country, Bush says that he invaded Iraq because of "the
lesson of September the 11th." WMD go unmentioned; now
the only reason Bush offers is Saddam Hussein as an
agent of terrorism. "He was a sworn enemy of the United
States of America; he had ties to terrorist networks.
Do you remember Abu Nidal? He’s the guy that killed
Leon Klinghoffer. Leon Klinghoffer was murdered because
of his religion. Abu Nidal was in Baghdad, as was his
The period of Klinghoffer’s murder in 1985 on the
Achille Lauro by Abu Abbas, in fact, coincided with the
period of U.S. courtship of Saddam, marked by the
celebrated visits of Donald Rumsfeld, then Middle East
envoy. The United States actively collaborated with
Iraq in intelligence exchanges and materially supported
Saddam in his decade-long war with Iran (which ended in
1988), including authorizing the sale of biological
agents for Saddam’s laboratories, a diversification of
his WMD capability.
The reason was not out of idealism but necessity: the
threat of an expansive, Iranian-controlled Shiite
fundamentalism to the entire Gulf.
The policy of courting Saddam continued until his
invasion of Kuwait. But the policy of realpolitik
prevailed when U.S. forces held back from capturing
Baghdad for larger geostrategic reasons. The first Bush
administration grasped that in potential future wars
after the Cold War, the United States required ad hoc
coalitions to share the military burden and financial
cost. Going to Baghdad would have violated the U.N.-
sanctioning resolution that gave legitimacy to the
first Gulf War as well as created a nightmare of
"Lebanonization," as then-Secretary of State James
Baker called it.
Realism prevailed; Saddam’s power was subdued and
drastically reduced. It was the greatest accomplishment
of the first President Bush. When he honored the U.N.
resolution, the credibility of the United States in the
region was enormously enhanced, enabling serious
movement on the languishing Middle East peace process.
Now the second President Bush has undone the foundation
of his father’s work, which was built upon by President
The success of Bush’s campaign depends on the
containment of any contrary perception of reality. He
must evade, deny and suppress it. His true opponent is
not his Democratic foe — called unpatriotic and the
candidate of al-Qaida by the vice president — but
events. Bush’s latest vision is his shield against
them. He invokes the power of positive thinking, as
taught by Emile Coue, guru of cheerful auto-suggestion
in the giddy 1920s, before the crash, who urged mental
improvement through the constant repetition of "Every
day in every way I am getting better and better."
It was during this era of illusion that T.S. Eliot
wrote "The Hollow Men": Between the idea / And the
reality / Between the motion / And the act / Falls the
About the writer
Sidney Blumenthal, a former assistant and senior
advisor to President Clinton and the author of "The
Clinton Wars," is writing a column for Salon and the
Guardian of London.