W. had his own supermarket check-out moment this week, only this variety of eerie, presidential dysfunction and detachment comes at a considerable (and still-mounting) cost in blood and treasure. The perplexing President Bush-with his dyed-in-the-wool, patrician, East-Coast rearing; Philips Andover, Yale, Harvard-schooling yet Texan-talkin', Evangelical persona-has offered up the most revealing statement of his presidency. The statement reflects a philosophical basis all the president's own for his confounding and extraordinarily onerous stay-the-course policy in Iraq. This unscripted glimpse at W., in an age of thoroughly orchestrated public appearances, illustrates the basis for the president's extraordinary cognitive dissonance on Iraq, such as his unceasing invocations of freedom-when freedom remains so thoroughly beside the point in the sectarian-torn, Iraqi reality. The president's statement represents much more than a gaffe or syntax error, it reflects our president, the man, and, despite a certain pathetic quality, it is of enormous consequence.
As has been reported broadly, the president, when asked by Suzanne Malveaux at a press conference about the report citing over 600,000 fatalities in connection to the Iraq War, summarily rejected the findings, claiming it had been thoroughly discredited. Then came the utterance:
"I do know that a lot of innocent people have died and it troubles me and grieves me and I applaud the Iraqis for their courage in the face of violence. I am, you know, amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they're willing to…you know, that there's a level of violence that they tolerate. And it's now time for the Iraqi government to work hard to bring security in neighborhoods so people can feel-you know-at peace."
Any attempt to diagram the absurdity and significance of this statement risks coming up short. Here, at any rate, is an earnest attempt at it.
The president, in referring to a war he launched, is marveling at the Iraqi society's willingness to tolerate the violence he has in effect brought to their country-willingness and tolerate of course being the operative words. Perhaps he should next wonder why they don't ask for cake. The breadth of his misunderstanding and naivety is simply astounding.
In some swerve of logic, Bush has decided for the Iraqis that they see the death of, say, their child or children, husband, wife, the descent of their entire country into chaos and hell-all worth it for the sake of what Bush deems to be freedom. It should go without saying that president's conclusion begs a question: what choice do the Iraqis have? Does the president really believe that, given such a choice, the Iraqis would choose ruinous war in exchange for his own vision of freedom?
We have seen multiple instances before where Bush and his administration attempt to recast or deny Iraq's realities, but W.'s recent musings on Iraqi society are particularly amazing for the lack of political caginess. No strategist devised this bit of political alchemy for Bush, it is too patently amateurish. No, it is W. laid bare-with frightening implications.
The statement does, in an unmanicured way, highlight W.'s central rationale for the war in Iraq. Since the administration's pretext for defensive war in bold pursuit of WMD was not borne out, W. has had to resort, and seemingly believes, a touchy, feely war rationale that is now being routinely and incongruently trotted out by the most unlikely of pundits. But again, what right do Americans have in making the presumptuous conclusion that Iraqis want the war because they want freedom. Under any circumstances, that would be quite a calculation for a country's people to make, to say nothing of when foreigners make it for you.
More importantly, those that continue justifying the war in humanitarian terms neglect to address the fact that Shi‘a and Kurds in Iraq before the war were already protected by a U.S.-led air-umbrella. So what was the humanitarian expediency to the war?
But back to the point, and problem. Given W.'s philosophical, war-for-their-own good construct, an unknowable number of death and dollars is justifiable. Interestingly, that strange disconnect with a rather obvious tally of the war's cost-its death toll-brings to mind another astounding Bushism, but this one from a different Bush:
"But why should we hear about body bags, and deaths, and how many, what day it's gonna happen, and how many this or what do you suppose? Or, I mean, it's, it's not relevant. So, why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?" That statement was made by Barbara Bush shortly before the Iraq War. And though it is true that Ms. Bush was referring to estimates of body bags and other conjectures about the war, it remains a thoroughly strange comment-seemingly inconsiderate of the most anguished of human suffering.
W. can not be held accountable for the comments of his mother. But his logic seems so impenetrable that one does look for clues and insight on the basis for histhinking. W.'s potential to take refuge from reality, and logic-so succinctly illustrated in his latest statement-appears limitless. Perhaps the weird detachment is somehow related to his hyper-privileged, blue-blooded upbringing or in some other way inherited. Or perhaps it is the product of desensitization to the enormity of the Iraq mistake. H.W.'s patrician disconnect became vividly apparent years ago with his fascination with supermarket cashier-technology. For W., it is manifested in his perception of his war. Regardless of the philosophical origins of W.'s comment, it clearly signals the hermetic closure of the president's mind and the potential for the most childish, erroneous of ideas to germinate there. It also demonstrates the likelihood of going from very, very bad to worse in Iraq-and beyond.
Ximena Ortiz is editor of National Interest online