What a week.
Last week was holy week for Christians and it was the bloodiest week of this ill-begotten war. The uprising, led by the Mahdi militia of Muqtada al-Sadr, the extremist Shiite cleric, erupted after the United States shut down Al-Sadr's viciously anti-American newspaper for printing lies that incite violence.
Didn't most of the newspapers in this country print the Bush administration's ... oh, never mind.
We all saw what followed: The bodies of American contractors brutally beaten, burned and gleefully displayed, civilian workers from Japan and other coalition countries captured and held, some with knives to their throats, our forces bombing a mosque in Fallujah and the subsequent walling-off of the city, where over 600 Iraqis are said to have died, and the death of nearly 50 Americans, including three young Minnesotans.
Topping it off stateside was the eerily emotionless testimony of Condoleezza Rice. She was a wall of sound, talking through and ignoring the commissioners' questions, unless they served her own purposes. Her poise and mental agility is impressive, but her demeanor was as veiled and disturbing to me as the photo that ran last Sunday in many newspapers including this one, of the Shiite women of the Mahdi Army, marching in full chador like a phalanx of Darth Vaders. I mean, they're my sisters, Condi included, and I want to like them, but they scare me for many reasons, including their allegiance to the men they serve, men who are not known for their women-friendly programs.
By the end of this tumultuous week there were enough disturbing images abroad and scraps of damaging information at home to further muddy this already murky mess, but surely one emerging picture is the enormous failure of leadership by this administration.
It wasn't reassuring to learn that the now-released Aug. 6, 2001, PDB entitled "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S." was considered by the members of our top security team, from President Bush on down, to be too vague to be "actionable," despite references to hijacked airplanes and New York City. It turns out we're not the only ones who are clueless when there's an Orange Alert.
Rice's ability to duck her own responsibility and paint those beneath her as the source of all failure isn't leadership, it's a defensive shellac job, shiny and protective.
But the real lack of leadership lies with the president, who seems increasingly immature and out-of-touch. If he grasps the gravity of where he has taken us, he fails to show it. Much has been made of the premature flight suit dance last May, but it goes on and on -- the "bring 'em on" taunt to the Iraqi resisters, the jocular search for the missing WMD under his desk, the flippant language and imagery of "swatting at flies," the refusal to appear before the 9/11 Commission without Vice President Dick Cheney at his side, the swagger, bravado and tough talk, and finally, spending this most bloody of weeks down on the Crawford ranch.
Last Thursday, as Rice was testifying and our troops in Iraq faced an increasingly perilous mission, the president was leading representatives of 22 hunting and fishing organizations on a tour of his 1,600-acre ranch. The next day, as the death toll mounted, Bush went fishing for bass with Roland Martin, host of a TV fishing show. According to Martin, Bush took the biggest catch of the day, a 4-pound bass.
In this day of instant communications I'm sure he's on the job, or can quickly be called in from the bass pond if needed. But how can the White House, so obsessed with image that it bans the media from covering the return of our dead soldiers to Dover Air Force Base, not see how this looks?
If the president expects Americans to die for a noble quagmire of a cause, and the rest of us to pay for it with our children's futures, he should sacrifice a week at the ranch to make a grown-up stab at getting us out of this mess, and not just at getting himself reelected.
He could start by living up to his own words from the 2000 campaign: "If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us. If we're a humble nation, but strong, they'll welcome us."
Susan Lenfestey (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Minneapolis writer.
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