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In Karl Rove’s ideal world, Iraq today would be a model country, a nation at peace, with scenes of happy children boarding schoolbuses, women working in computer facilities, families enjoying themselves in fairgrounds, and a smooth-running administration manned by smooth-talking Iraqis.
And his candidate would be unbeatable.
Timing was everything to this scenario. Enough time before November 2004 to settle any lingering problems after the conquest: hence the need to short-circuit diplomacy, dump the allies, bypass the Arabs and jettison weapons inspections, and rush to war.
The White House makes up its own reality, as Ron Susskind learned in his interviews there . More, it does so with cold deliberation. So they made up this fictional reality of an impending threat, using trigger words like ‘mushroom cloud’, ‘American cities’, ‘gassing his own people’, etc. They succeeded in roping Congress into the act, using the 2002 elections as a bogeyman, giving the illegal war an aura of legitimacy. They had already browbeaten a corporate press which really gave no cause to browbeat, more’s the pity, for its corporate masters were happy to be on the winning side. Recall how enthusiastically the Washington Post supported the war, and how well Bob Woodward served the president afterwards.
But as in real fiction, fictional reality soon ran into real reality, as it must. The strategy demanded some extraordinary sleight of hand to cover up this crossing. All magicians use misdirection — the art of making you look at one place while the mischief is happening at another. And so did Rove’s crew, for a long while. But all magicians have one trait in common. They cannot be clumsy – competence is everything in magic. And the prime hallmark of this administration, combined with an innate mendacity and a natural chicanery, is a pristine incompetence. Rove is a master strategist, his success all the more creditable given the material he has to work with. Long ago, after Clinton’s victory in 1992, James Carville and Paul Begala wrote a piece saying that it was the prime actor, not they, who was responsible for the win. I don’t recall the exact words, but it went like this, "He’ll take his side and beat you, and he’ll take your side and beat you too!"
So spare a thought for poor Karl. Capping a year’s worth of bad news from Falluja and Najaf, and daily red alerts in the Green Zone, this week brings news from Baghdad of a huge explosives cache left unguarded and allowed to be looted following the Iraq invasion. No one knows where the explosives have gone, and the IAEA, which had been monitoring the cache prior to the war, said it had warned the US about it. To put the loss in perspective, one paper noted the Lockerbie bombing used about a pound of the same kind of explosive. Gone missing from Al Quaqa are 380 tons of explosive.
If it’s been a while since you left school, 1 ton = 2000 pounds.
OK, so we didn’t guard the Baghdad Museum and watched some of mankind’s greatest wealth destroyed. But what about nuclear and biological sites? Peter Galbraith, a diplomat who was in Iraq at the time of the invasion, has written a chastening piece in the Boston Globe  giving instances of such facilities being left unguarded.
Last time, as Al Gore wrote in the New York Times, Bush did not have a record. Not any more. The bankruptcy of ideas and failure of execution are there for all who would open their eyes. No one seriously believes that Bush knows the first thing about economics. No one thinks he is an education president. One would not even call his instincts Christian in any genuine sense, for it is impossible to reconcile his calls to revenge with the words of the Sermon on the Mount. And Bush proved in the debates that he could not even talk cogently for two minutes without a teleprompter, regardless of subject. It has been an administration bereft of achievement, cunning in all its doings, enveloped in secrecy and terrified of admitting either frailty or fallibility.
So what’s left? The final fiction of Bush being the only man who can stand between middle-eastern terror and Fortress America. We are fighting in Iraq because otherwise we would be dying in our cities, is the theme of the Bush-Cheney camp. Well, people are seeing that Americans are dying, 1100 of them so far, in Iraq too.
Kerry does not ask why this administration failed us on 9-11 — perhaps thinking it bad form. It is a hugely relevant question, however, for its incompetence was revealed early by that disaster. But despite Kerry’s plodding, the facts are out stumping for themselves. Bush’s final argument fell this week. Among the missing items at Al Quaqa is the last pillar of Bush’s case for reelection.
As this election approaches I am reminded of a joke I heard long ago: A man enters the doctor’s office with the left ear and a wide patch of his left cheek burned. The doctor was aghast. "How did that happen?", he asks. The man answers slowly, "Well, I was ironing some clothes when the phone rang. I absentmindedly answered by picking up the iron and putting it to my ear….Ouch!". The doctor suppresses a smile and prepares to take out some ointments and bandages. Then he suddenly notices that there is an identical bruise on the right side of the man’s face. "What happened on the other side?", he asks. The man says sheepishly, "Well, the guy called again…"
Four years later, Bush is calling again. Will America, with all of Rove’s evangelical base, burn the other cheek?
NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a writer living on the West Coast. His writings can be found on http://www.indogram.com/gramsabha/articles. His blog is at http://njn-blogogram.blogspot.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
 Without a Doubt by Ron Susskind, New York Times Magazine, Oct 17, 2004
 Eyewitness to a failure in Iraq by Peter K. Galbraith, Boston Globe, October 27, 2004