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Spinning fantasy from straw

The US viceroy of Iraq, Paul Bremer, transferred so-called sovereignty to Iraq two days early. If there was ever any doubt that the folks in the George Bush White House are living in their own fantasy world, there is no need to look any farther than how the White House described this event.

Said President Bush in Istanbul, Turkey:

Earlier today, 15 months after the liberation of Iraq, and two days ahead of schedule, the world witnessed the arrival of a free and sovereign Iraqi government.... Today Iraqis live under a government that strives for justice, upholds the rule of law, and defends the dignity of every citizen.

Condi's noteSounds like a momentous event — the birth of a nation where people live happily ever after. A person could be forgiven for thinking there must have been a big ceremony and celebration in the street. You know, the sort of thing that happens when the world witnesses a truly historic event, such as the fall of the Berlin wall, of which we have heard so much lately.

In Instanbul, Condi Rice slipped W a note saying Iraq was "sovereign" (talk about exaggeration!) and W scrawled pompously with his Sharpie, "Let freedom reign." I suppose we should be grateful that he spelled all three words correctly.

Now let's see how the same event was described in the New York Times:

L. Paul Bremer III, the chief American administrator who arrived last May to a country in flames, restored Iraqi sovereignty in a simple meeting called on no public notice, deep inside the heavily fortified American occupation headquarters area known as the Green Zone.

American aides and Iraqi officials, who were bracing for a wave of terrorist attacks on Wednesday, the date initially set for the transfer, said they had moved up the ceremony, and held it in near total secrecy, in order to foil any terrorist plots that might be in the works.

NY Times, 28-Jun-04

handover letterWhat actually happened is that Paul Bremer handed over a letter in a fancy leather (leather-like?) portfolio, shook hands, and got on an airplane. At least it was a bit more decorous than the US' departure from Saigon with desperate Vietnamese clinging to the skids of the last helicopter out.

Bremer and Salih leave ceremonyFar from being an idyllic land of liberty and justice for all, Iraq is such a dicey place that Bremer and Deputy Prime Minister Salih left the ceremony escorted by heavily armed guards, even though they were inside the fortified American green zone.

Some birth of a nation when it has to take place in a bunker!

Writing in the Washington Post, Howard Kurtz describes the "cloak-and-dagger stuff" surrounding the event: Reporters were given only 30 minutes notice to get into the "green zone" for "a briefing by Paul Bremer." As a result, only Peter Jennings (ABC) and Christiane Amanpour (CNN) witnessed the ceremony, although all the media nabobs were in Iraq for the handover. Reporters' cell phones were taken away so they couldn't report what happened until it was all over.

Reign of the Rumplestiltskins. The Bush administration is like so many Rumplestiltskins spinning fantasies out of straw. Just last week, Wolfie — from the safety of a hearing room on Capitol hill — accused the media of sitting in Baghdad hotel rooms publishing rumors. ("At least 25" reporters have died in Iraq since the start of the war, according to Reporters Without Borders.) Wolfowitz, of course, is one who, a few weeks ago in another hearing, didn't know the how many US military had been killed in Iraq.

The world sees "occupation"; the White House sees "liberation." We see 140,000 US military, a few thousand Brits, plus a handful from a few other countries; the White House sees a grand "coalition." We see escalating attacks; the White House sees "desperation" by the enemy and a sign of "progress." They use the same words the rest of us do, but they often mean just the opposite: the "clean air" program allows more pollution, the "healthy forest" program permits more commercial logging, and so on.

Iraq is a mess, but you would never know it by listening to the Bushies. On Meet the Press last Sunday, Madeleine Albright listened respectfully to the Senate Republican Whip Mitch McConnell (R-KY) regurgitate the party line about how wonderful Iraq is progressing and then took dead aim:

And part of what's going on here is the administration is believing itself. So all this happy talk about what is happening in Iraq, I think, does not really reflect the reality of what Tom Brokaw has been talking about it [in the previous segment], and what we've all seen, which is that — to use a diplomatic term of art — it's a mess.
Meet the Press, (27-Jun-04)

In Sunday's Washington Post, Fred Hiatt described how "jarring" it was to come back from Iraq where there is "an emphasis on learning from mistakes and moving forward, because there isn't any alternative" compared to Washington where the focus is on "measuring failure, apportioning blame, and calculating the effect on American politics and American power."

There's a good reason why the focus in the US is what it is, and it's not just the media's habit of reporting bad news. It is a natural consequence of the constant stonewalling, blustering, and posturing by the administration. Because the administration can't admit when it's wrong and can't admit when something isn't working, people are forced to insist that things aren't going well. If the administration could just say, "We tried this, but it didn't work very well, so now we're going to try something else," people could say "Well, how about ...?

Instead, the administration just blusters and postures about "thugs" and "murderers" and about "bringing them to justice." As recently as two days ago, in his remarks about the Iraq transition, W once again rattled his sabres and thumped his chest: "Look, they can't whip our militaries. They can't whip our militaries." Apparently he has learned nothing since "Bring 'em on."