There's something Mister Magoo-like about President George W. Bush's preoccupation with Iraq. While a focus on one thing, at the expense of every other thing, can be comedic on screen, it can be tragic in real life.
Quincy Magoo, the cartoon character debuting in 1949, was so myopic that he couldn't see anything that wasn't right in front of his face -- and even then he would always misinterpret that near object. But once he drew his bead, however wrongly, he wouldn't let up. And so, for example, he mistook his son-in-law, wearing a raccoon coat, for a wild bear. Tempers flared, adrenaline raced, and much hilarious umbrella-hitting commenced.
In its single-sighted focus on Iraq -- so prostrate that Saddam Hussein has released most of his prisoners, apologized to Kuwait, and let his country be swarmed by UN inspectors -- the Bush administration is turning a farcical story line into a potentially disastrous blindness toward far more visible threats.
After 9/11, most eyes turned to al-Qaida and Afghanistan. But the administration had its own road map, in which all roads led to Baghdad. That view overrode everything else. So when career bureaucrats at the CIA said Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, the Bush people told them to look harder. When the lifers at the FBI said it was unlikely that Iraq was behind the anthrax attacks a month later, they were told to consider their career prospects as they re-sifted the evidence.
Now the Bushies are saying, in effect, that while they might not be able to prove to the world that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, they have already proven it to themselves. Musing over the ambiguities of weapons-data collection, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said, according to The Washington Post, "It's like the judge said about pornography. I can't define it, but I will know it when I see it." In other words, trust us -- and our strategic insight and our moral clarity.
Those are the words of people seized by a powerful "vision": If the vision is clearer than the murky reality, they stick with the vision. What else could explain the Bush blind spot toward the charter member of the "axis of export," North Korea? Or the eagerness to cover up, at least for a while, ugly facts? The North Koreans told an American diplomat in early October that they might have a nuclear weapon or two. But the White House kept that information secret, allowing Congress to go forward with a vote on the Iraq-war resolution on Oct. 11; the North Korea nuke news dribbled out six days later.
Meanwhile, the beat goes on, weapons-of-mass-destruction-wise. On Nov. 30, The Washington Times reported: "North Korea could build several plutonium bombs right away and add one every year until about 2005. And by the middle of the decade, North Korea could begin producing enough plutonium to build about 50 bombs a year." And just on Monday, the North Koreans got caught apparently supplying 15 Scud missiles to Yemen. And it looks like the Yemenis will get their shipment.
In fact, Pyongyang has reportedly enjoyed a thriving arms trade with our close friends, the Pakistanis. Is that a problem? Not according to Secretary of State Colin Powell. "I had a very specific conversation with President Musharraf of Pakistan on Friday where he assured us -- 400 percent, he said -- that Pakistan was not participating in any kind of activity," Powell said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Oct. 20. Asked if Pervez Musharraf was trustworthy, he responded, "I take his word for it." Any more questions?
To be sure, the Bush administration, like Mister Magoo, offers lots of bluster. Just on Tuesday, the White House released a new national security document proclaiming that "all options" are on the table in the event the United States or its allies are attacked by weapons of mass destruction. For good measure, USA Today reports, the Pentagon is even planning on deploying that most loathed of weapons, land mines, in post-attack Iraq. That might make sense militarily, but there's a diplomatic game, too. Whatever happened to speaking softly while carrying that big stick?
Maybe it's a good approach to be loud. The myopic Mister Magoo was plenty noisy. But there's just one difference: At the end of every cartoon, Mister Magoo was unscathed.