08/08/2006 01:30 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Iraq: Where Alternative Reality Meets the Real World

So. It turns out this is what happens when neocons living in their alternate reality come face-to-face with actual reality. Go figure.

Much was made last week of the harsh acknowledgements by three prominent experts about Iraq. Yet an important part of the picture was left unspoken while these loud voices were heard -

William Patey, Britain's outgoing ambassador to Iraq. "Civil war is a more likely outcome in Iraq than democracy." The situation will be "messy and difficult" for five to 10 years.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, testifying. "We do have the possibility of that devolving into civil war."

And Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East. "Iraq could move toward civil war," adding, "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I have seen it."

Now, by any yardstick, these three men are substantial voices with so much gravitas they make gravitas seem puny. They are not easily dismissed. Actually, they are not to be dismissed period. Except at one's own foolish, head-in-the-quagmire risk.

But while attention is being paid to these leaders about the situation right now, what's perhaps most important is the perspective in which their words exist. After all, it's one thing to jump into a snake pit and discover, "Yipes! There are snakes!" It's another to be sitting in your living room as flames blaze around you and understand what happened so that you can freaking stop it.

And that perspective is -

May, 2003. "Mission Accomplished"

May, 2005. Vice-President Dick Cheney: "The insurgency is in its last throes."

2004-2006. Administration officials repeatedly proclaiming: "We've turned the corner." ***

June, 13, 2006 Two months ago. President George W. Bush to the Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq: "I'm impressed by the cabinet that you've assembled....I'm impressed by the strength of your character and your desire to succeed. And I'm impressed by your strategy.... It's an impressive group of men and women."

It's one thing to openly acknowledge "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I have seen it." But - how in the world did you get there from just two months ago, "I'm impressed" with everything?

How did you get to messy civil war for 10 years from turning the corner of the last throes??

Maybe the quip about "turning the corner so often we're back where we started" is more accurate than we thought...

And another thing: just because you turned the corner doesn't mean you turned in the right direction.

Having a rosy, optimistic view of the landscape is wonderful. But when you blink and re-open your eyes to find you're actually in the middle of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, maybe it's time to rethink your certainty for your sense of direction.

It's like Dorothy in reverse - "Toto, I don't think we're in Oz anymore." The world suddenly has gone from glorious Technicolor to dreary black-and-white in just one snap of the fingers.

It's like breezing down the Interstate at 90 MPH with nothing around you - and crashing into a brick wall that suddenly appears across all six lanes.

How? How could Iraq change so fast and profoundly?

There are a three possibilities that come to mind.

1) The people making the glorious pronouncements were so incompetent they couldn't see how awful the situation actually was.
2) They knew what they were talking about, and were lying.
3) A giant sandworm rose from the desert and inexplicably sucked the garlands of success down into the deepest vortex of hell.

It seems reasonable to dismiss reason #3, since no giant sandworms sightings have been reported.

That leaves incompetence or lying. There don't seem to be many other options. It is otherwise impossible to go from three years of glory to an instant "Oops, sorry, my bad."

Certainly things can go wrong in life. But that's hardly at issue here. The reality on the table is that for three years the Bush Administration has been consistently saying everything is actually going well. Wonderfully. "Impressive." To go from that, instantly, to disaster and civil war requires an honest recognition of what has been going on all along.

Happily, though, Donald Rumsfeld did tell us last week that at least everything is going well in Afghanistan.

Except during "the spring, summer and fall months."

Or until a giant sandworm appears.

*** Addendum:

For those keeping a scorecard, here is a very partial tally

January 6, 2004. Coalition forces "have turned the corner" in western Iraq." Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack, Jr.

July 21, 2004. "We've turned the corner in extending freedom throughout the world." President George W. Bush.

May 7, 2005. "I think we've turned the corner, if you will." Vice President Dick Cheney.

November 11, 2005. "I really think we've turned the corner here" President George W. Bush. quoting an Iraqi lieutenant

December 17, 2005. "The President has turned the corner on Iraq" Sen. Joseph Lieberman [D-CT].

December 19, 2005. "The United States has 'turned the corner' in Iraq." Vice President Dick Cheney.