Reality Check 

Cognitive dissonance in the Bush White House.

My, what a full plate we have here as a result of President Bush's prime-time news conference. Most important is that the president believes in freedom. Also, we are trying to change the world. (Did we sign up for that? I thought we were trying to catch terrorists.)

There are always moments of cognitive dissonance in listening to Bush, when you realize that what he is saying simply does not accord with any known version of reality. He proudly bragged that "we" created the Department of Homeland Security. That would be the department whose creation he opposed all those months. Also, he is looking forward to the report of the 9-11 Commission. That would be the same commission that he so vigorously opposed for all those months.

Meanwhile, the administration is expected to nominate John Negroponte to be our first ambassador to postwar Iraq, to take up residence in what will be the world's largest embassy after June 30. Negroponte was one of the key figures in the Iran-contra scandal, the cockeyed plot that sold American arms to Iran and used the money to finance an illegal war in Nicaragua. So our first ambassador will be a man who armed Iraq's enemy during that war.

Negroponte speaks no Arabic and has no Middle East experience aside from the Iran-contra insanity. He is, however, a bona fide, certified, chicken-fried neo-con. Is anyone else appalled?

On the matter of Bush's chronic inability to admit mistakes, I think he and Karl Rove are making a mistake-mistake. I've never thought that apologizing for errors was a mistake. (I make them with some regularity myself.)

Over at the 9-11 Commission, you may recall there was a difference of opinion between former Clinton honchos and the CIA as to whether President Clinton had issued an order to kill Osama bin Laden or merely capture him. Lo and behold, what should turn up in the Clinton documents that were being withheld by the Bush White House but the very order to assassinate bin Laden.

Perhaps the most impressive witness last week was the former director of the CIA's counterterrorism section, Cofer Black, clearly a spook's spook. You could tell he was furious when he said quietly, "We didn't have enough people to do the job, and we didn't have enough money, by magnitudes."

I think this is where the disconnect between Bush's strategy and reality is the most crucial. He has been led astray by his own rhetoric about the war on terrorism: War is conducted by the military -- ergo, send in the marines.

Actually, fighting terrorism is closer to a cross between a criminal investigation and traditional spook work. What we need most is good intelligence married to good detective work married to undercover penetration and then precise military strikes.

One trouble with Bush's "stay the course" rhetoric (he never changes his mind, he never backs down, what a macho guy he is, etc.) is that he does change his mind, often -- why do you think Condi Rice testified? -- but you can't tell if he realizes it.

Maybe he thinks rigidity is reassuring, but anyone who doesn't change strategy when the facts change on the ground is going to wind up toast. Flexibility is not a pejorative word, whereas the neo-con ideological fixations are a real handicap.

As long as we're playing the blame game, the Republican Congress might want to step up to the responsibility plate. It spent more time in the 1990s trying to bring down Clinton than trying to bring down bin Laden. Black sure could have used the $64 million that Ken Starr spent investigating Whitewater.

Molly Ivins writes for Creators Syndicate and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.


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