Truth will out

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(HOST) Recently President Bush held a press conference at the Pentagon to tout the progress of newly-trained Iraqi forces in Iraq. But what commentator Philip Baruth heard was something else entirely: the sound of reality slowly forcing its way to the surface.

(BARUTH) Hard-core computer geeks have a saying: Information wants to be free. What they mean is that no matter how much time and energy corporations spend encrypting their data, it will all be hacked and distributed in due time. I’ve always liked that saying, but for me it’s only part of a much larger idea: reality, I think, is what really wants to be free.

Reality, in fact, has some pretty pronounced exhibitionist tenden- cies, and no government or corporation has ever managed to keep it draped for very long.

In the case of the war in Iraq, the Bush Administration has devoted years now to shoring up two related propositions: first, that what- ever the merits of the later occupation plan, the actual invasion was a stunning success; second, that we’ve always had just the right number of troops in country to achieve our stated goals, and the generals in Iraq can have more just by picking up the phone.

Now, for quite a while the Iraqi insurgency has been making a mockery of the first proposition. Sadaam Hussein lost a devastating conventional war to George Bush Sr. in 1991, and when Bush Jr. began to telegraph a second invasion, Hussein and his Republican guard planned unconventionally. For well over a year, Iraqi forces stockpiled arms and when the moment was right, they took off their uniforms and vanished. Since that time, they’ve killed nearly two thousand Americans, decimated the Coalition of the Willing, and not incidentally turned world opinion almost entirely against us. So, yes, American tanks moved into Baghdad quickly, but what they entered was a slow-motion bear-trap. That’s not a stunning success, that is a textbook military failure, and when Tony Blair expressed surprise last week at the ferocity of the insurgency, he acknowledged as much without seeming to realize that he was acknowledging it.

At nearly the same time, George Bush was demolishing the second fiction that we’ve always had enough troops in Iraq and he too seemed to have no idea that he was doing so. At a Pentagon briefing, Bush was intent on rolling out the new fiction: that Iraqi troops have progressed to the point where they can handle security in Iraqi cities. Here’s exactly what Bush said: “It used to be that after we cleared out a city, there were not enough qualified Iraqi troops to maintain control . . . And so what would happen is the terrorists would wait for us to leave and they would try to move back in, and sometimes with success. Now the increasing number of more capable Iraqi troops allows us to hold onto the cities we have taken from the terrorists.”

That last line is breathtaking when you really think about it. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but what the President of the United States said there is that until just recently we did not have enough troops both to take these cities and to hold them; only now, with the addition of large numbers of Iraqi troops, is that possible. In other words, we’ve had to invade and then re-invade cities like Fallujah and Sammarah again and again taking heavy casualities each time because we didn’t have enough troops to do it right the first time. Of course, the media’s been reporting this situation for almost two years, citing top military officials, only to have it denied at all levels of the administration. But here was George Bush himself at the Pentagon, accidentally admitting that up was up, and down very much down, that reality was loose in the world.

And all the assembled brass, including Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, were nodding soberly as he did so.

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.

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