Paging Dr. Freud... or at least Dr. Phil.
When it comes to the White House's latest "new approach" to Iraq, we are definitely entering "the lunatics have taken over the asylum" territory.
The judgment behind it -- looking at the advice of military experts, and the unambiguous results of the November election, and deciding the proper response is to escalate our involvement in Iraq -- is straight out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Psychiatric literature defines delusional thinking as "false or irrational beliefs maintained despite clear evidence to the contrary."
Sound like any commander-in-chief you know?
Indeed, watching Sen. Lindsey Graham shill for the administration on Meet the Press this weekend, and hearing him state with utter conviction and a gleam in his eye, "We've got a new team on the ground. We're going to come up with a new strategy. The strategy is going to be designed to win," I couldn't help but think of the reports from psychiatrists who have treated patients with delusional personalities. The truly deranged are often so committed to their delusions, and so insistent, that part of your brain actually starts thinking: Hmm, maybe this person really is Napoleon! Maybe that woman really is a fried egg! Maybe the surge really will lead to victory in Iraq!
Meanwhile, the other part of your brain -- the rational part -- is reminding you that, no, in fact, that person is not Napoleon or any part of a Denny's Grand Slam Breakfast. They are simply utterly insane.
So now, as the president prepares to preempt Deal or No Deal to lay out his new plan for Iraq in prime time on Wednesday night (and wouldn't it be great if we could all collectively shout "No deal! No deal!!" at him through our TVs?), it might be useful to have a diagnostic checklist -- things we should to be looking for during the speech to help us evaluate where the president currently stands on the "I'm a fried egg" delusion continuum. (Hat tip to Dr. Bill Frist, who paved the way for such video-diagnoses.)
Here are some of the key symptoms of "false or irrational beliefs maintained despite clear evidence to the contrary" we should be looking out for:
Does he display clear indications of denial, continuing to use words like "victory," "win," and "stable democracy"? Does he avoid using the phrase "civil war"? When he repeatedly talks about "sacrifice" does he skip over the fact that this doesn't include me and you, and over 99 percent of Americans?
Does he exhibit signs of the classic layman's definition of insanity: repeatedly doing the same thing but expecting a different result? Look to see if he trots out strategies that have already failed time and time again and acts like he expects them to have a different outcome. Be on particular alert for mentions of a new Baghdad security plan, and see if they are accompanied by any reference to the five previous such plans, all of which have failed to curb the chaos. And keep an eye open for even the slightest acknowledgment that throughout the war the military has repeatedly carried out troop surges of more than 20,000 and the bloodshed in Iraq has continued to increase.
Does the patient -- I mean, the president -- demonstrate magical thinking, signs of a belief that merely wishing for something can make it so? For example, when he talks about sending an additional 20,000 troops to Iraq, does he acknowledge the reality that military commanders have told him they don't have the troops available to deploy more than 9,000 soldiers? Does he appear cognizant of the fact that in order to come up with even 20,000 troops the military would have to remobilize reserves, extend current tours of duty, give new units dangerously little time to train, shorten the amount of time between tours for troops returning home, and leave America even less able to deal with any new security threat?
Does he continue to make the claim that we're fighting them over there so we won't have to fight them over here...even though there isn't a shred of evidence that the war in Iraq has made us safer, and a great deal of evidence that it has, in fact, had the opposite effect?
Does he continue to irrationally link the war in Iraq to 9/11, as Tony Snow did on Monday when he claimed the president "understands there is a lot of public anxiety" about the war, but that the American people "don't want another September 11."
Does he admit that the new top commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Odierno said that even with a troop surge, it could take another "two or three years" for our troops to get the upper hand in Iraq?
Does he explain where the $100 billion in additional war funds he will be asking Congress for next month is going to come from, or do you get the sense that he believes it will come from the exact same place the additional troops will come from?
Sadly, I think the diagnosis is inevitable. Nothing in Bush's history suggests otherwise. This will leave the rational treatment of the war in the hands of Dr. Reid, Dr. Pelosi, and their Congressional cohorts. The prescription? A straitjacket on the president's war funding requests.
It's one thing to believe you're Napoleon. It's quite another to send more young people to die in your Waterloo.
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