In his press conference on July 12, President Bush told the big lie yet again: "The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th."
False but also crude, self-serving, easily exposed. Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia did not exist on September 11, 2001. The lie came eight days after a Fourth of July oration in which he compared himself to George Washington.
A few months earlier, he had listened with Vice President Cheney as the director of the CIA said that the Iraqi government was not built to last. The president's response was to consult with the vice president. Then he ordered his "surge."
It is time we got him in focus. He is not amenable to persuasion. He may signal a willingness to compromise, but he always goes back on his word; not charging himself with insincerity when he does so, for he means what he promises in some special, private sense: "I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn't do my job."
He is not up to his job, and (to a greater extent than most people imagine) he knows it. This explains his inability to sack officials who have demonstrated their incompetence. A substratum of vivid knowledge of his own demerits forms a constant impediment, and has played a larger part in shaping his conduct than petulance, mere cronyism, or the boyish code of loyalty. Not just "There, but for the grace of God, go I," but: "Who am I to fire this one, or any one?"
There has never been a president so unable to solicit or comprehend advice from qualified judges who don't support his prejudices. Never a president before with so continuous a motive for repression of reality. He bears the burden of having done great wrong. To admit even a fraction of that wrong would be to enter a path of remorse that is alien to his nature.
This president has lost contact with reality, in any ordinary sense of the words "lost," "contact," and "reality." We Americans are too cautious, too literal in our ideas of such irreversible disconnection. The truth is that people who are lost to us in this way can't be relied on to show it conspicuously. They may appear sober and friendly, on occasion. They do not froth and gibber. And yet they are not capable of curing themselves. Every bad new choice only deepens the rupture.
Someone with a history of such isolation can't be moved by rational argument or the workings of common sympathy. He must be made to change course as water changes course. You build up the banks, and secure the altered direction, so that there is only one way for him to flow. Every other path must be obstructed, just as the physical universe obstructs a person who attempts
unaided flight with arms for wings.
We must not play with his toys. Acceptance of the phrase "war on terror" is an implicit acceptance of endless war. Terror has been a component of this world from the start--along with sin and death, chaos and night. Terrorists who attack us must be fought, and must be stopped. But terrorists, like other people, act on motives; and one way of fighting them is to remove those motives. A war on terror conceived, as Cheney's experiment has been conceived, as a global war of extermination that ends with the killing of the last terrorist, in fact creates more terrorists than it destroys. A global war on terror means a war to the end of time. It is, in essence, a totalitarian idea.
The global war on terror is a pure product of the mind of Cheney working on the mind of Bush. On the one hand, the craving for secrecy, order, and acts of executive will that brook no opposition; on the other hand, the need for simplicity, the love of vicarious battles and intoxicating emotions, and a cause as irrefutable as a local team to lead the cheering for.
"Never wholly separate in your mind," wrote Edmund Burke, "the merits of any political question from the men who are concerned in it." We have seen the men, and we know them by their actions.
They are gathering the forces now for Iran. The carriers on patrol in the Persian Gulf, the series of accusations that hold Iran responsible for the violence in Iraq, the propaganda corps at the American Enterprise Institute turning up the heat--all the preparations are in place in the summer of 2007, just as they were in the summer of 2002. An administration with a modicum of
prudence would not risk setting the Muslim world aflame by carving up a second theater of devastation in the Middle East. Yet these are men of wild imaginings.