President Bush in Wonderland

The president “returned” to his vacation on Thursday, while his spokesman claimed that a National Intelligence Estimate everyone else was reading as saying the administration’s Iraq policy was doomed in fact proved that the White House strategy was “headed in the right direction.”

That’s what White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe had to say, as the president resumed his vacationing at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

It must be nice to live in Wonderland, where we’re winning the war and vacation is the order of the day. Remember “stay the course?” Most people think it’s the punch line of a bad joke. This administration seems to believe it, still.

How do you breathe with your head in the sand?

How do you go on vacation when kids are serving their third tour of duty trying to protect people whose own so-called leaders are also on vacation?

Last month, the incoming chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael G. Mullen, testified before Congress that unless there is political progress in Iraq, “no amount of troops in no amount of time will make much of a difference.”

That view is widely shared, on both sides of the aisle, by supporters and opponents of the war. So is the judgment that there has been no significant political progress. Q.E.D. Not in Wonderland.

According to the National Intelligence Estimate, produced by the intelligence agencies that are part of Mr. Bush’s own administration, despite modest improvements in security in some parts of the country produced by “bottom up” strategies, the political situation is dire.

The Iraqi government and its leaders “remain unable to govern effectively” and the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will actually “become more precarious over the next six to 12 months.”

The very same “bottom up” tactics that are contributing to some improvements in local security also strengthen the hand of local factions, which in turn further undermines the strength of the central government’s strength that is the essential element in any long-term strategy for security and stability.

If this is how you define “headed in the right direction,” what in the world would the “wrong direction” look like?

Either the president and his spokespeople are lying, or they are totally and completely deluding themselves. I’m not sure which is scarier.

The outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Peter Pace, is reportedly preparing to advise the president that keeping current troop levels through 2008 will seriously undermine the ability of the military to deal with crises anywhere else in the world. Defense Secretary Robert Gates reportedly is in agreement with them.

“Headed in the right direction?” Will the administration ignore them too?

Sen. John Warner, as good a friend as the administration has in the Senate, and widely acknowledged as an expert in military matters, has urged the president to announce next month “the first step in a withdrawal” of troops to convey to the Iraqi government that “we mean business” and that our commitment of troops is not open-ended.

Mr. Warner just returned from a trip to Iraq. Mr. Bush just returned to his vacation. What is wrong with this picture?

Will the administration ignore Sen. Warner as well?

Who will they listen to?

The president seems determined to bring down the military, his party, and his party’s presidential contenders right along with him. Forced to defend the president, the candidates are reduced to defending the indefensible. Absent some change in direction by them or him, their nominee is destined to fail. As a Democrat, I suppose I should be happy. But it is no pleasure to see brave American lives wasted because of the stubbornness and blindness of the Commander in Chief.

The only real question in Iraq is not whether we can win, or whether we should stay, but how we get out in a way that hurts innocent people the least. That is what needs to be addressed. But you can’t address problems you’re unwilling to face; you can’t come up with any realistic solution until and unless you’re ready to face reality.

"Freedom," Janis Joplin so famously said, "is just another word for nothing left to lose." Maybe that’s how George W. Bush feels. His popularity could hardly go lower, his administration is just over a year from ending, he is the lamest of ducks. In that sense, he is totally free. But those under his command are not. The country and its soldiers have a great deal to lose, and we’re losing it, every day.

Have a nice vacation, Mr. President. No one else is.

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

Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”

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, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for

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