August 17, 2005
How could President Bush be cavorting around on a long vacation with American troops struggling with a spiraling crisis in Iraq?
Wasn't he worried that his vacation activities might send a frivolous signal at a time when he had put so many young Americans in harm's way?
"I'm determined that life goes on," Mr. Bush said stubbornly.
That wasn't the son, believe it or not. It was the father - 15 years ago. I was in Kennebunkport then to cover the first President Bush's frenetic attempts to relax while reporters were pressing him about how he could be taking a month to play around when he had started sending American troops to the Persian Gulf only three days before.
On Saturday, the current President Bush was pressed about how he could be taking five weeks to ride bikes and nap and fish and clear brush while his occupation of Iraq has turned into a fiasco. "I think it's also important for me to go on with my life," W. said, "to keep a balanced life."
Pressed about how he could ride his bike while refusing to see a grieving mom of a dead soldier who's camped outside his ranch, he added: "So I'm mindful of what goes on around me. On the other hand, I'm also mindful that I've got a life to live and will do so."
Ah, the insensitivity of reporters who ask the President Bushes how they can expect to deal with Middle East fighting while they're off fishing.
The first President Bush told us that he kept a telephone in his golf cart and his cigarette boat so he could easily stay on top of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. But at least he seemed worried that he was sending the wrong signal, as his boating and golfing was juxtaposed on the news with footage of the frightened families of troops leaving for the Middle East.
"I just don't like taking questions on serious matters on my vacation," the usually good-natured Bush senior barked at reporters on the golf course. "So I hope you'll understand if I, when I'm recreating, will recreate." His hot-tempered oldest son, who was golfing with his father that day, was even more irritated. "Hey! Hey!" W. snapped at reporters asking questions on the first tee. "Can't you wait until we finish hitting, at least?"
Junior always had his priorities straight.
As W.'s neighbors get in scraps with the antiwar forces coalescing around the ranch; as the Pentagon tries to rustle up updated armor for our soldiers, who are still sitting ducks in the third year of the war; as the Iraqi police we train keep getting blown up by terrorists who come right back every time U.S. troops beat them up; as Shiites working on the Iraqi constitution conspire with Iran about turning Iraq into an Islamic state that represses women; and as Iraq hurtles toward a possible civil war, W. seems far more oblivious than his father was with his Persian Gulf crisis.
This president is in a truly scary place in Iraq. Americans can't get out, or they risk turning the country into a terrorist haven that will make the old Afghanistan look like Cipriani's. Yet his war, which has not accomplished any of its purposes, swallows ever more American lives and inflames ever more Muslim hearts as W. reads a book about the history of salt and looks forward to his biking date with Lance Armstrong on Saturday.
The son wanted to go into Iraq to best his daddy in the history books, by finishing what Bush senior started. He swept aside the warnings of Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell and didn't bother to ask his father's advice. Now he is caught in the very trap his father said that he feared: that America would get bogged down as "an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land," facing a possibly "barren" outcome.
It turns out that the people of Iraq have ethnic and religious identities, not a national identity. Shiites and Kurds want to suppress the Sunnis who once repressed them and break off into their own states, smashing the Bush model kitchen of democracy.
At long last, a senior Bush official admits that administration officials can no longer cling to their own version of reality. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning,"the official told The Washington Post.
They had better start absorbing and shedding a lot faster, before many more American kids die to create a pawn of Iran. And they had better tell the Boy in the Bubble, who continues to dwell in delusion, hailing the fights and delays on the Iraqi constitution as "a tribute to democracy."
The president's pedaling as fast as he can, but he's going nowhere.