Bush's Blinkers

By BOB HERBERT

New York Times

October 22, 2004

Does President Bush even tip his hat to reality as he goes breezing by?

He often behaves as if he sees - or is in touch with - things that are inaccessible to those who are grounded in the reality most of us have come to know. For example, with more than 1,000 American troops and more than 10,000 Iraqi civilians dead, many people see the ongoing war in Iraq as a disaster, if not a catastrophe. Mr. Bush sees freedom on the march.

Many thoughtful analysts see a fiscal disaster developing here at home, with the president's tax cuts being the primary contributor to the radical transformation of a $236 billion budget surplus into a $415 billion deficit. The president sees, incredibly, a need for still more tax cuts.

The United States was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. The president responded by turning most of the nation's firepower on Saddam Hussein and Iraq. When Mr. Bush was asked by the journalist Bob Woodward if he had consulted with former President Bush about the decision to invade Iraq, the president replied: "He is the wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength. There is a higher father that I appeal to."

Last week the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University said in a report:

"During the past year Iraq has become a major distraction from the global war on terrorism. Iraq has now become a convenient arena for jihad, which has helped Al Qaeda to recover from the setback it suffered as a result of the war in Afghanistan. With the growing phenomenon of suicide bombing, the U.S. presence in Iraq now demands more and more assets that might have otherwise been deployed against various dimensions of the global terrorist threat."

There are consequences, often powerful consequences, to turning one's back on reality. The president may believe that freedom's on the march, and that freedom is God's gift to every man and woman in the world, and perhaps even that he is the vessel through which that gift is transmitted. But when he is crafting policy decisions that put people by the hundreds of thousands into harm's way, he needs to rely on more than the perceived good wishes of the Almighty. He needs to submit those policy decisions to a good hard reality check.

Here's one good reason why:

Dr. Gene Bolles spent two years as the chief of neurosurgery at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, which is where most of the soldiers wounded in Iraq are taken. Among his patients was Pfc. Jessica Lynch. In an interview posted this week on the Web site AlterNet.org, Dr. Bolles was asked: "What kind of cases did you treat in Landstuhl? And these were mostly kids, right?"

He said: "Well, I call them that since I'm 62 years old. And they were 18, 19, maybe 21. They all seemed young. Certainly younger than my children. As a neurosurgeon I mostly dealt with injuries to the brain, the spinal cord, or the spine itself. The injuries were all fairly horrific, anywhere from the loss of extremities, multiple extremities, to severe burns. It just goes on and on and on. ... As a doctor myself who has seen trauma throughout his career, I've never seen it to this degree. The numbers, the degree of injuries. It really kind of caught me off guard."

If you're the president and you're contemplating a war in which thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of these kinds of injuries will take place, you have an obligation to seek out the best sources of information and the wisest advice from the widest possible array of counselors. And you have an absolute obligation to exercise sound judgment based upon facts, and not simply faith.

In a disturbing article in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, the writer Ron Suskind told of a meeting he'd had with a senior adviser to the president. The White House at the time was unhappy about an article Mr. Suskind had written.

According to Mr. Suskind, "The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' " The aide told Mr. Suskind, "That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act we create our own reality."

Got that? We may think there are real-world consequences to the policies of the president, real pain and real grief for real people. But to the White House, that kind of thinking is passť. The White House doesn't even recognize that kind of reality.