President Bush: State of Denial About Iraq

Hold the melon, please, my daughter always asks, when she orders fruit salad. The problem, as only some waiters and waitresses bother to explain, is that most fruit salads are pre-made, and melon is usually the primary ingredient. Take out the melon and what’s left?

The White House should not treat the Study Group Report “like a fruit salad,” James Baker told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Wishful thinking. Until the president accepts the basic premise of the report, its recommendations are almost beside the point. The basic premise is that we’re failing. The president doesn’t see it that way.

The president is in denial. He has posed for the pictures, accepted the report, thanked the co-chairs. There might even be a few recommendations in there somewhere with which he agrees.

But he refuses to face reality. He rejects the fundamental diagnosis. He still wants to win.

“I thought we would succeed quicker than we did, and I am disappointed by the pace of success,” he said at his joint press conference last week with Tony Blair.

But he still thinks we can win. “I also believe we’re going to succeed. I believe we’ll prevail,” he said.

Prevail? What does it mean to prevail? On what planet?

How are we going to prevail in their civil war?

Denial is the first stage in dealing with death. The president still has to get through anger, bargaining, and depression before he reaches acceptance.

And there is no sign that he is listening to anyone.

He didn’t listen to the voters, who gave him a thumping because of Iraq. So much for democracy.

He isn’t listening to his own new defense secretary, who has testified that his Iraq policy isn’t working and won’t work. So much for his own advisers.

And he certainly isn’t listening to the Iraq Study Group, which most people have characterized as the last, best hope, or at least the best cover, for a change of policy. So much for blue ribbon bipartisanship.

What will it take to get through to this president?

If an election doesn’t do it, and a blue ribbon panel doesn’t do it; if his father’s team and his own savior (remember it was Jim Baker who went to Florida in 2000 to rescue W) can’t do it, who can?

When the president was in denial about the damage caused by Katrina, his staff made a video of the devastation for him to watch. Maybe it’s time for a new video.

The Iraq Study Group described the situation there as “grave and deteriorating.” In his press conference, the president said it was merely “unsettling.”

Asked if his description signaled that he was “still in denial about how bad things are in Iraq,” the president’s answer seemed to confirm that he was: “Make no mistake about it, I understand how tough it is, sir. I talk to the families. I also believe we’re going to succeed. I believe we’ll prevail.”

Are the “families” telling George Bush that we can prevail?

With all due respect, how would they know? No one wants to have lost a loved one in vain.

No one has a greater interest in this war having meant something than those who have sacrificed the ones they love most. But is that a reason to keep asking others to sacrifice their lives?

Does the president have any source other than “the families” for his Pollyanna-ish view of the world?

Who else is telling George W. Bush that “we’re going to succeed?” What waiter is he listening to?

Even his own former allies on the Right are tripping over each other blaming him for mishandling the war, as if it were simply a problem of a good idea gone bad.

“Kiss and tell” is ugly to watch, but not even the neo-cons who got us into this mess are still saying we’re going to succeed.

It is one thing for the president, or others, to say that they disagree with specific recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton commission. But the president is stuck at the initial question, which means so are the rest of us.

And as long as he is in a state of denial, the country is bound to be in a state of war that we cannot win. It will be a long two years until the next election, and George W. Bush’s attitude all but ensures that we will spend it debating the war in Iraq. The menu is set. Hold the melon. Not possible, you say. Exactly.

Click here to read Susan's response to your email .

Click here to link to Susan's new book, "Soulless."

Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.

Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel.

Respond to the Writer