Dual Loyalties

My opinion on the people who shape our world

Monday, October 25, 2004

KRT Wire | 10/25/2004 | A reality-challenged sheriff or an uncertain adversary?

KRT Wire | 10/25/2004 | A reality-challenged sheriff or an uncertain adversary?: "A reality-challenged sheriff or an uncertain adversary?

BY TRUDY RUBIN

Knight Ridder Newspapers
(KRT) - This election will be won by the candidate who voters think will keep them safer.

President Bush is promoting his image as the steadfast sheriff who will shoot when he must. Vice President Cheney is pushing the line that Sen. John F. Kerry would let terrorists attack our cities.

"John Kerry would lead you to believe he has the same kind of view that George Bush has, that he would be tough and aggressive," says Cheney. "I don't believe it."

Cheney misses the point.

A president who's tough and aggressive doesn't necessarily make the country safer. If someone is willing to shoot, but shrouds his eyes in a blindfold, would you want to be in the vicinity when he fires his gun?

The troubles this country faces in Iraq are a product of the willful blindness of President Bush and his administration. The president opted for war but didn't want to know where that war would lead.

The Bush team marched into Iraq with utter disregard for the dangers it would face after Saddam Hussein fell, dangers that were laid out by the State Department, CIA, key generals, and nearly every expert on the region.

The insurgency that rages in Iraq today is the direct outgrowth of the administration's fierce refusal to face facts. Such facts were inconvenient because they didn't fit the preferred story line: that the Pentagon's favorite exile, Ahmed Chalabi, would return to acclaim from a secular, middle-class Iraq and establish democracy. U.S. troops could then return home.

This was nonsense; the realities of Iraq were apparent to anyone who was looking. But the Bush administration preferred not to see.

As Ron Suskind wrote in an unsettling article in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, the administration was scornful of "the reality-based community" that evaluated situations by examining the facts on the ground. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," Suskind was told by a senior adviser to the President. "We're an empire now and when we act we create our own reality."

According to Bush reality, the postwar was supposed to be easy. The Iraq experience would scare neighbors into better behavior (or provide a launching pad for the next "regime change" in Iran or Syria). Any facts to the contrary were inconvenient.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told me in November 2002 he would be "astonished" if there were instability in Iraq after a war.

No wonder we didn't send enough troops, or stop the early looting that turned many Iraqis against us. No wonder we abolished the Iraqi army. No wonder it took the administration until this summer to start training Iraqis in earnest to fight a growing insurgency. No wonder Iraq is now the base for terrorists that it wasn't before the war, and is draining resources from the antiterrorist fight.

Only the prospects of a difficult November election broke through the inexplicable self-hypnosis at the White House. It's not clear that the President has yet gotten the message: The damage done by the shameful lack of preparation for the postwar has dimmed the prospects for a decent outcome in Iraq.

This is what makes the prospect of another term for Sheriff Bush so scary. An administration that is both aggressive and wedded to wishful thinking puts America's safety at risk.

Already, voices close to the administration are calling for the next bout of regime change - in Iran. This seems totally irrational, for many reasons. Not least are our overstretched military and the fact that a strike on Tehran would rally many Iranians around the mullahs.

The same wrongheaded claims are being made about Iran that one heard about Iraq: The Iranians are ready to rebel; the population will welcome U.S. intervention. Yes, a large majority of Iranians yearn to have the ayatollahs gone, but that doesn't mean they want a U.S. invasion or that U.S. bombs would spark a revolt.

Yet, if fact-based foreign policy is passe, might not a faith-based White House act on its own imaginary vision of Iran? How can one trust a White House that prefers imperial dreams to the discomfort of hard, cold facts?

No question Kerry is an uncertain quantity, whose Vietnam War service and goose-hunting skills do not reveal when he would be willing to resort to force. No question he pins too much hope on help from our allies.

But would you feel safer with a leader who talks tough and goes to war armed with his faith and a false vision of future dangers or a leader who listens to contrary opinions and is open to facts? This is the choice Americans are facing. This is the decision they must make."