President Peter Pan
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On this, there can be no question. Regarding Iraq, John Kerry is acknowledging reality. George Bush is not.
Bush embarrassed America when he went before a stony-faced audience at the United Nations Tuesday and claimed that all was well in Iraq, calling it a country well on its way to being a "beacon of freedom in the Middle East." More tellingly, he spent far more time defending his decision to invade in the first place, ignoring the consequences of a war that is now dangerously unraveling.
Meanwhile, Kerry seems to have finally found his voice on Iraq. Kerry is in trouble when he tries to parse his explanation of his vote in favor of war in Congress; no matter how sensible it might or might not be, it plays into the "flip-flop" stereotype Republicans have created for him. But there can be no mistaking the current situation in Iraq, and Kerry is spot on when he thunders, as he did Tuesday, that "the president really has no credibility at this point. He has no credibility with foreign leaders who hear him come before them and talk as if everything is going well... The president needs to live in the world of reality."
Alas, on the most critical issue now facing the country – Iraq and Bush's misbegotten War on Terror – reality is not President Peter Pan's strong suit. White House spinsters will be working hard this week to pretend all is well, crowned by the address to Congress on Thursday of Iraq's appointed U.S. puppet prime minister, Iyad Allawi. Allawi not only has no credibility in his own country, but his government, like U.S. troops, cannot even access nearly half of the country. He is, in the eyes of his countrymen, tainted not only by his past as a thug – first for Saddam and then for Western intelligence agencies – but by the very fact he was installed by and works with the Americans.
If there was ever a chance that Bush's ideal of a democratic Iraq on the American model could be achieved, it's long gone. No politician acceptable to Washington will be accepted at this point by the vast majority of Iraqis. Bush knows this, or at least he should; his intelligence agencies, as well as Congressional Republicans, have been telling him. But he is either stubbornly clinging to his own fantasy world, or, for political reasons, he's refusing to acknowledge the crisis.
The White House hope is that stunts like Allawi's address to Congress can help maintain the fiction of a normalized Iraq, on its intended course, at least until the US election in November. Oddly, it may not matter much to the election; polling suggests that the fiasco in Iraq is not changing the minds of those coveted swing voters. But that's not the point. Every week that goes by where Iraq military strategy is dictated by the political goals of the Bush Administration is a week where the insurgency grows stronger and more soldiers are put in harm's way for crass political purposes.
Kerry, in an unusually pointed speech in New York on Monday, finally got the situation right: "Invading Iraq has created a crisis of historic proportions, and... the prospect of a war with no end in sight." His prescription of more foreign assistance may not help much at this point; more radical remedies are probably needed. But at least Kerry understands and acknowledges the situation.
Judging from his public pronouncements, George Bush either doesn't understand what he has created in Iraq, or – even worse – he understands it, but is working his hardest to ensure that the American public is misled. Either way is inexcusable. And either way leads inexorably to John Kerry's conclusion: that Bush does not have the credibility to lead the world, or the United States.