Still Optimistic About Iraq? You Just Might Be a Fanatic

Before the president delivered his sunny-side up speech on Iraq today, a senior White House official offered a preview: "With this speech the president says 'let me tell you why I'm so positive.'" Hearing that, I expected the speech to be one of the shortest on record: "I'm so positive because I'm a stone-cold fanatic. And God bless America."

It was nearly three years ago that I offered the only possible explanation for the ever-widening chasm between what the White House claims is true and what is actually true: we are being governed by a gang of out and out fanatics.

As I put it in a May 2003 column, just weeks after the president's upbeat -- and wildly inaccurate -- Mission Accomplished moment:
"The defining trait of the fanatic -- be it a Marxist, a fascist, or, gulp, a Wolfowitz -- is the utter refusal to allow anything as piddling as evidence to get in the way of an unshakable belief. Bush and his fellow fanatics are the political equivalent of those yogis who can hold their breath and go without air for hours. Such is their mental control, they can go without truth for, well, years. Because, in their minds, they're always right. Oopso facto."

This idea formed the basis for my last book, Fanatics and Fools (the Fools being the enablers in the Democratic Party). And Bush and Cheney's statements around the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq have only reinforced my diagnosis: this administration is teeming with zealots for whom evidence is little more than an obstacle on their chosen course.

This evidence-be-damned fanaticism has been front and center as the White House tries to put a positive spin on what the president called "the beginning of the liberation of Iraq." Which is kind of like saying that my wedding was the beginning of my divorce.

As promised, the president did indeed use today's speech to explain his seemingly delusional optimism on Iraq. But instead of opting for my direct, one-line explanation, the president offered a very long story about the city of Tal Afar -- which he called "a concrete example of progress in Iraq."

Trouble is, after going on and on and on about the significance of Tal Afar, he then turned around and admitted it really wasn't much of an example at all: "I wish I could tell you that the progress made in Tal Afar is the same in every part of Iraq. It is not." So it turns out that Tal Afar is not an example but an anomaly.

But why quibble over details? The president admitted "the situation on the ground remains tense" but refused to backtrack from his Sunday claim: "I'm encouraged by the progress." Nothing like 15 more bodies being discovered around the capital to give these guys a confidence boost.

But Bush's fanaticism was mild compared to Cheney's, who must have devoured the collected works of Norman Vincent Peale before hitting Face the Nation on Sunday.

"I think we are going to succeed in Iraq," he told Bob Schieffer. "I think the evidence is overwhelming." As overwhelming, Mr. Vice President, as the proof that Saddam had reconstituted his nuclear program or that Mohammed Atta had met with Iraq an intelligence officer in Prague?

Cheney, usually the administration's go-to guy on gloom and doom, managed to stay positive even when reminded of his tragically erroneous predictions that U.S. forces would be "greeted as liberators" and that the insurgency was in its "last throes."

True to fanatical form, Cheney stuck to his guns (oops, I forgot the Political Satirist Associations' voluntary 30 day moratorium on Cheney firearms references -- my bad). Who else but a fanatic could claim, as the VP did, that those fantasy-based assessments were "basically accurate and reflect reality"? So, let's review: in the fanatics' lexicon, dead wrong equals "basically true" and delusional equals "reflect reality."

Cheney also made the startling claim, with as straight a face as his crooked mouth would allow, that when it comes to Iraq "the facts are pretty straightforward." Indeed they are: over 2,300 U.S. dead, over 17,000 U.S. wounded, a minimum of 33,000 dead Iraqi civilians, a sputtering reconstruction, soaring Iraqi unemployment, and lower than promised levels of fresh water, electricity, and oil production.

As he said, "the evidence is overwhelming."

Unfortunately for the White House fanatics, Operation Rose Colored Glasses coincided with the far darker assessment of Ayad Allawi, who said Iraq is nearing a "point of no return": "We are in a civil war."

Gen. Casey begged to differ, telling CNN: "We're a long way from civil war." But, as Think Progress helpfully points out, in 2004 President Bush considered the then-prime minister's credibility on Iraq unimpeachable: "He's a brave, brave man... You can't change the dynamics on the ground if you've criticized the brave leader of Iraq."

So let's give the final word to this brave, brave man: "We are losing each day, as an average, 50 to 60 people through the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."

Perhaps The Almighty should pass the word on to the fanatic in the Oval Office next time they speak.