Dance of the Marionettes

By MAUREEN DOWD

New York Times

September 26, 2004

It's heartwarming, really.

President Bush has his own Mini-Me now, someone to echo his every word and mimic his every action.

For so long, Mr. Bush has put up with caricatures of a wee W. sitting in the vice president's lap, Charlie McCarthy style, as big Dick Cheney calls the shots. But now the president has his own puppet to play with.

All last week in New York and Washington, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi of Iraq parroted Mr. Bush's absurd claims that the fighting in Iraq was an essential part of the U.S. battle against terrorists that started on 9/11, that the neocons' utopian dream of turning Iraq into a modern democracy was going swimmingly, and that the worse things got over there, the better they really were.

It's the media's fault, the two men warble in a duet so perfectly harmonized you wonder if Karen Hughes wrote Mr. Allawi's speech, for not showing the millions of people in Iraq who are not being beheaded, kidnapped, suicide-bombed or caught in the cross-fire every day; and it's John Kerry's fault for abetting the Iraqi insurgents by expressing his doubts about our plan there, as he once did about Vietnam.

"These doubters risk underestimating our country and they risk fueling the hopes of the terrorists," Mr. Allawi told Congress in a rousing anti-Kerry stump speech for Bush/Cheney, a follow-up punch to Mr. Cheney's claim that a vote for John Kerry is a vote for another terrorist attack on America.

First the Swift boat guys; now the swift dhow prime minister.

Just as Mr. Cheney, Rummy and the neocons turned W. into a host body for their old schemes to knock off Saddam, transform the military and set up a pre-emption doctrine to strike at allies and foes that threatened American hyperpower supremacy, so now W. has turned Mr. Allawi into a host body for the Panglossian palaver that he believes will get him re-elected. Every time the administration takes a step it says will reduce the violence, the violence increases.

Mr. Bush doesn't seem to care that by using Mr. Allawi as a puppet in his campaign, he decreases the prime minister's chances of debunking the belief in Iraq that he is a Bush puppet - which is the only way he can gain any credibility to stabilize his devastated country and be elected himself.

Actually, being the president's marionette is a step up from Mr. Allawi's old jobs as henchman for Saddam Hussein and stoolie for the C.I.A.

It's hilarious that the Republicans have trotted out Mr. Allawi as an objective analyst of the state of conditions in Iraq when he's the administration's handpicked guy and has as much riding on putting the chaos in a sunny light as they do. Though Mr. Allawi presents himself as representing all Iraqis, his actions have been devised to put more of the country in the grip of this latest strongman - giving himself the power to declare martial law, bringing back the death penalty and kicking out Al Jazeera.

Bush officials, who proclaim themselves so altruistic about bringing liberty to Iraq, really see Iraq in a creepy narcissistic way: It's all about Mr. Bush's re-election.

As The Chicago Tribune reported, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage alleged that Iraqi insurgents have stepped up their bloody attacks because they want to "influence the election against President Bush."

At a recent G.O.P. fund-raiser, House Speaker Dennis Hastert claimed that terrorists would be happier with a Kerry presidency. "I don't have data or intelligence to tell me one thing or another," he said, but "I would think they would be more apt to go" for "somebody who would file a lawsuit with the World Court or something rather than respond with troops."

Faced with their dystopia, the utopians are scaling back their grand visions for Iraq's glorious future.

Rummy suggested last week that a fractional democracy might be good enough. "Let's say you tried to have an election, and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country, but some places you couldn't because the violence was too great," he said at a hearing on Capitol Hill, adding: "Nothing's perfect in life."

At a Pentagon briefing on Friday, Rummy also blew off Colin Powell's so-called Pottery Barn rule that if we broke Iraq, we own it. "Any implication that that place has to be peaceful and perfect before we can reduce coalition and U.S. forces, I think, would obviously be unwise, because it's never been peaceful and perfect," he said. "It's a tough part of the world."

As he said after the early looting in Iraq: "Stuff happens."