Bush turned deaf ear on Iraq opponents

By Leonard Pitts, Jr.: Syndicated columnist

I write this in order to say I told you so.

Not for me. Well, maybe a little bit for me. But also for some people who would probably never publicly say it for themselves. As a general rule, good soldiers toiling on government payrolls don’t do that sort of thing. Columnists toiling on newspaper payrolls, however, do.

Two years ago, the National Intelligence Council produced and presented to President Bush a 50-page report on the future of Iraq. Its forecast: continued instability and a possibility of civil war. The president’s response to these dire prognostications? “They were just guessing as to what the conditions might be like.”

That’s what he told reporters, that the best thinking of the best minds on the most pressing item on the American agenda amounted to “just guessing.” Later, Bush corrected himself, saying he should have used the word “estimating” instead, but who can doubt that the initial reaction, the off-the-cuff dismissal of information he didn’t care to believe, reflects the man’s truest character?

Flash forward. Did you see last week’s headlines? In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, said, “I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war.”

This followed hard on the heels of an even blunter and bleaker assessment from Britain’s outgoing ambassador to Iraq. “The prospect of a low-intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy,” said William Paley in a diplomatic cable obtained by the BBC.

Wow. A civil war is “likely?” Who could have predicted that?
Oh, yeah. The NIC, that’s who. So again, on behalf of the dedicated women and men who saw their work brushed aside because it did not conform to the wishful thinking of the man in the white mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue: I told you so.
For all the good that does. It’s not as if anyone has lacked opportunities to say, “I told you so” to and about this administration. Weapons of mass destruction, mission accomplished, death throes of the insurgency, Iraq connected to 9/11 … you choose. The misstatements are many.

So this is nothing new, much less surprising. What continues to be appalling, though, is the somnambulism of much of the electorate in response. Or maybe that’s just me. I mean, over the last year, when the president’s approval ratings slipped into the low 30s, many people were amazed they had fallen so low. I was amazed they remained so high.

Many of us enable this charade with our active approval or simply our silence, our lack of outrage. So scared are we, so desperate to return to the illusion — for that’s all it ever was — of safety, that we ignore even the most obvious and glaring evidence that our leadership has not a clue. And that our president has a monumental aversion to unwelcome truths. He prefers to live instead in a happy bubble of self-delusion and many of us are all too ready to join him there. Facts have no meaning in such an environment. Logic is a broken tool.

Which is why, much as I’d like to hope this latest illustration of presidential incompetence will prompt a change in public opinion; I know it won’t. We are gone far down a road from which there can be no U-turns.

Therein lies the pity, the pointless waste of it all. So stack this “I told you so” with all the rest, then sit back and let’s watch as Sunnis and Shiites do battle in the rubble that used to be Iraq. A civil war?
They were just guessing, said the leader of the Free World.
Looks like a pretty good guess to me.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at:
lpitts@herald.com