The well-regarded British research organization, Chatham House, has published a new report with the seemingly unobjectionable title “Accepting Realities in Iraq.” But it is that difficulty – facing up to what is real – that has been at the heart of this political and military catastrophe.

From the beginning, George W. Bush and his neoconservative advisers have put ideology and wishful thinking ahead of rationality and realism. This tendency explains why so many pieces of evidence cited to support the Iraq invasion have proven false and why so many claims of progress have proven overly optimistic.

There always was a cockiness among Bush and his Republican allies that they could bend American perceptions of reality by putting out their message aggressively and shouting down any dissenting voices.

Given the potent right-wing news media – and the timid and complicit mainstream press – the neocon strategy of flooding the process with alarming pseudo-information worked wonders in 2002, convincing many Americans that there was a desperate need to invade Iraq.

During that run-up to war, very few people were willing to risk their careers by challenging the Bush administration’s narrative on Iraq. Those who did – from former weapons inspector Scott Ritter to the Dixie Chicks – were punished. “Respectable” Washington political circles, including key Democrats and leading journalists, largely sided with Bush.

It turned out, however, that Bush’s power to impose his will on adversaries faded the farther away he got from the booming voices of Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly.

So, while right-wing bombast attacking Iraq War critics as “traitors” and “surrender monkeys” kept most politicians and pundits in line in the United States, the threatening language had less impact on the ground in Iraq.

Indeed, today’s intractable crisis in the Middle East is arguably more dangerous because of the divergence between the harsh realities in Iraq and the more pleasing false reality that has been cultivated in Washington.

In particular, Bush’s Republican “base” continues to believe that the war in Iraq is going well, that the “surge” is bringing America closer to victory and that the biggest problem is that “liberal bias” in the news media is obscuring all the President’s successes.

At the first two debates of Republican presidential candidates, the loudest applause went to tough talk about the “war on terror,” including the need to torture suspects and to expand the Guantanamo Bay prison complex. Even the mildest, most indirect criticism of Bush’s policies was met by stony silence.

It’s as if a substantial part of the U.S. population has joined a Jonestown-like cult, willfully cutting itself off from the real world and accepting the truth handed down by the cult leader, in this case the President of the United States.

For years at Consortiumnews.com – indeed since our founding in 1995 – we have warned that an emerging false narrative of recent American history represented a danger to the United States as a constitutional Republic. Regarding Iraq, our stories in 2002-03 observed how White House wishful thinking was sure to get many good people killed. [See, for instance, “Bay of Pigs Meets Black Hawk Down.”]

Stubborn Refusal

Possibly Bush’s biggest mistake in Iraq – besides his initial decision to invade – has been his stubborn refusal to adjust U.S. policy to Iraq’s worsening reality. He has always looked for glimmers of sunlight and berated experts who pointed toward the darkening storm clouds.

So, instead of avoiding the war in the first place or finding a relatively quick exit, Bush kept placing his false hope in the ambitious plans of the neocons who saw Iraq as the first step in throttling Muslim governments viewed as impediments to U.S. regional power projection or as threats to Israel.

Back home, the Iraq War and the “war on terror” also proved useful as political devices to convince many Americans that they had no choice but to surrender their civil liberties to Bush and the neocons in exchange for supposed protection from “terrorists.”

Although more and more Americans have come to see through these arguments, a large portion of the U.S. public – the Republican “base” – still buys into the neocon worldview. As this chasm grows between the real world and their faux reality, the Bush cult seems to have set up permanent residence in what might be called an ideological Jonestown.

In that context, the Chatham House report, entitled “Accepting Realities in Iraq,” marks a direct challenge to Bush’s Iraqi dreamscape. The report amounts to an update to the December 2006 findings of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which concluded that conditions in Iraq were “grave and deteriorating.”

Six months ago, the Iraq Study Group recommended a policy reversal – a U.S. troop drawdown combined with more training of Iraqi forces and more regional diplomacy – but an angry Bush countered by ordering a “surge” or escalation of U.S. military forces, to about 160,000 troops from 140,000.

In its May 2007 report, Chatham House asserts that a fundamental weakness in Bush’s Iraq strategy has been the failure of the United States and its allies to appreciate the severity of the political and security problems in Iraq.

“This analytical failing has led to the pursuit of strategies that suit ideal depictions of how Iraq should look, but are often unrepresentative of the current situation,” the report said, arguing for strategies that at least recognize the underlying realities.

The report said those realities include: “the social fabric of Iraq has been torn apart” with the country facing multiple civil wars and multiple insurgencies; the U.S.-backed national government cannot exert control over large sections of the country; any security plan would have to last “many years,” not just months; and al-Qaeda has succeeded in establishing itself in major Iraqi cities, including Baghdad, Kirkuk and Mosul – now possibly strong enough to withstand challenges from rival insurgent groups.

“While the Bush administration is still clinging to the hope that the situation in Iraq can be turned around, the tasks that lie ahead do not inspire great optimism,” the report said. “The legacy of four years of instability may present insurmountable obstacles to any process of promoting meaningful political inclusion. Iraqi society has now been transformed by violence.”

Whatever hope exists for some Iraqi reconciliation, Chatham House said, would depend on flexibility in Washington and London to deal with sectarian and other local leaders who have some credibility with parts of the population, such as radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, a harsh critic of the U.S. occupation.

“In pursuing such a strategy, military force in the form of surges cannot deliver the critical political accommodation,” the report said, adding that: “Iraqi solutions will need to be found to Iraqi problems. … Devising U.S. or regional solutions according to the players’ own interests, and imposing them upon Iraq, has been tried and has only served to destabilize the situation further.”

But the first American step toward a realistic approach on Iraq may be as difficult as finding common ground among the Iraqi factions: How does George W. Bush break it to the Republican “base” that he’s been deceiving them all these years and that major diplomatic concessions are required?

Doesn’t it make more sense, in a twisted sort of way, for Bush to just string out the war until January 2009 and then have his followers blame the new President for losing Iraq?

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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