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The Chicago Sun Times

True or False: Can Bush Tell Difference?

Is President Bush able to distinguish truth from falsehood? Is he too caught up in the double-talk generated by his spin masters to grasp the difference? After reading his talk to the VFW last week, I think that at this stage of his presidency he is utterly incapable of honest communication with the rest of the country.

Objectively, his claim that the United States can win in Iraq, his comment that the Iraqi prime minister is a good guy and his history of the Vietnam War go far beyond the boundaries of truth. Granted, the speech was ground out by one of the spin masters (perhaps trained in dishonesty by Karl Rove), the president ultimately is responsible for it. It follows logically from all the falsehoods going back to weapons of mass destruction. It is contradicted by the intelligence estimate released the same day by the director of National Intelligence. The killing continues, the Iraq government is not improving, the war continues.

And, one would add, Americans continue to die.

Why does the president continue to deny the obvious, even when his own intelligence agency affirms it? Because some conservatives insist the United States could have won the Vietnam War if it hadn't ''lost its nerve''? There is no serious support for this folklore. The only similarity is both wars were foolish wars for which there was no good reason, the United States was doomed to defeat from the beginning, and if someone had not pulled the plug, we'd still be fighting in Vietnam, just as we are still fighting -- perhaps forever -- in Iraq.

The Iraq Study Group gave the president a way out. He didn't take it because he wanted victory. He can't have victory. But he is not quitting during his administration, no matter how many more senseless deaths occur. His VFW speech is part of a campaign to elect a president who will continue the war. Whether Bush is deliberately deceiving his potential supporters or whether he no longer knows truth from falsehood because of his personality traits must remain a question only God can answer.

However, it is not wrong to question his credibility -- and the suffering it causes to the families of those who die because of his stubborn insistence on ''staying the course'' until a democratic Iraq becomes a reality. Must we not say, Mr. President, you have spoken so often against the truth, that we no longer believe anything you say.

Some writers tell me I am driven by hatred of the president, and as a priest I ought not to hate anyone. (These are people who generally did not think it was wrong to hate President Clinton or President Kennedy). I don't hate the president, but I hate this stupid, unjust and evil war. To be a priest and not condemn evil would be sinful.

The war will end only when it ends, when someone in power says, "already, all right, enough," and announces that the war is over. Lyndon Johnson tried to do that when he withdrew from the 1968 election. The Iraq Study Group tried to do the same thing. Johnson's plan was frustrated when Richard M. Nixon won the election and continued the war for six more years (during which time more people died than had in the previous six years). The Iraq Study Group, basically conservative men, ran afoul of the president's stubbornness and the reluctant loyalty of his congressional allies.

The long-awaited reports of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will provide another escape hatch. They will have to report in some way the Iraq government is not able to end the raging civil war. Does anyone want to bet the president will say, ''Then, let's get out of there''?

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Andrew Greeley

Andrew W. Greeley is a progressive Catholic priest, sociologist, journalist and popular novelist. He is of Irish decent and resides in Chicago.

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