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by Michael Winship

Bush: It's Over

Indicative of just how ignorant we are of how things work in the Middle East in general and in Iraq specifically, I'm struck by the fact that every Iraqi national with whom I speak on the phone or via e-mail is opposed to the idea of dividing that country into three parts: Sunni, Shia and Kurd.

Interesting, because it's a solution touted by many American politicians and diplomats as the best answer to an essentially intractable problem. That the Iraqi people themselves don't seem to want it -- any more than they want those cement-slab walls the United States military started throwing up around parts of Baghdad last week -- would seem one mighty big drawback.

It's just that Americans currently in positions of power don't seem to listen much to anyone else. I SAID, IT'S JUST THAT THE AMERICANS CURRENTLY IN POSITIONS OF... never mind. From the president on down they live in the proverbial, impermeable bubble that apparently renders them impervious to all sound other than their own voices and those of various acolytes saying, "You betcha, boss."

This "don't-say-yes-until-I-finish-talking" attitude obviously is what afflicts our chief executive and his vice president as they continue to ignore antiwar public opinion and the deadly truth on the ground in Iraq. It afflicts our inept yes man of an attorney general as he runs the Justice Department in a manner like, as Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall wrote, "some ungainly combination of a Young Republicans summer camp and Michael Brown's FEMA."

It afflicts World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz as he ignores the advice of the international economic community while simultaneously advancing the salary and career of his girlfriend (In the words of Stephen Colbert last week, "As if dating Paul Wolfowitz wasn't reward enough!").

It even afflicts powerful folks not in government, like Don Imus. Had he emerged from bubbledom and listened to his better angels, rather than his egregious producer Bernard McGuirk or the publicity-eager media mavens and politicos who worshipped at his airwave altar, he might yet be spouting invective, touting candidates and best sellers and raking in cash for CBS and NBC.

But it's in Iraq that the recalcitrance of the bubble-bound powerful and unhearing has been most tragic. Last Wednesday, roughly 230 were killed in Iraq (nearly seven times the number of those killed at Virginia Tech). That same day, meeting with Congressional leadership, President Bush reportedly "bristled" when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attempted to breach the bubble, comparing the current situation to Vietnam, when lives were lost long after it was clear victory was not to be. "I reject that," the president is supposed to have said.

A week and a half ago, I attended a discussion in Manhattan sponsored by Culture Project, a theater that focuses on social and political issues, and The Economist magazine. One of the participants was Reza Aslan, author of "No god but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam." He's an engaging and articulate scholar you may have seen on CBS News or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

As do many experts, Aslan believes that if we unilaterally withdraw from Iraq, there will be chaos worse than the mayhem that exists today: not only civil war but a proxy war fought on behalf of Sunnis underwritten by Saudi Arabia and Syria and of Shias by Iran; that Kurdistan will declare independence, triggering war with Turkey; and that a radical Islamic force -- a Taliban-like/al Qaeda combo -- will gather strength in Anbar province.

That said, he thinks the only viable solution may be to move ALL of the 150,000 American troops into Baghdad and the surrounding area, as well as the 200,000 plus military contractors in country. "Maybe with 350,000 soldiers in Baghdad, we can tamp down the violence long enough for social and economic change to take hold," Aslan said, in the hope that peace and stability would establish a foothold in Baghdad and spread outward. This is a variation on the so-called "Kabul plan" attempted in Afghanistan.

Now, you'd think Aslan's informed point of view would be of interest and utility even if you don't agree with him. But no one at the executive level in Washington seems willing to pay him -- or anyone else -- much heed.

This refusal to listen to people like Aslan and others of various perspectives is what gets us into trouble at home and all over the world. It's part of what caused so many to turn their backs on a Republican Congress last fall. And it's a lot of the reason why this administration is so deeply over its head -- without acknowledging reality -- that it's terrifying.

We see a man in the White House gesturing madly from his rapidly sinking bubble not unlike the hapless fellow at sea depicted in those famous lines by the late English poet Stevie Smith. "I was much further out than you thought," he says.

"And not waving but drowning."

© 2007 Messenger Post Newspapers

Michael Winship, Writers Guild of America Award winner and former writer with Bill Moyers, writes for the Messenger Post Newspapers in upstate New York

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Albion Monitor   April 30, 2007   (

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