American Foreign Policy: Wonderland, Oz, and Never-Never Land

08/02/2006 12:32 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

[Those of you who don't appreciate the overuse of metaphors shouldn't even bother with this article. Go read the latest on Mel Gibson instead. You have been warned.]

President Bush's strategy for peace in the Middle East has always been eerily reminiscent of the Queen of Hearts' proclamation: "Sentence first, verdict afterwards!" It seems to solely consist of the following fantasy: "When peace breaks out, then we'll have a cease-fire." Even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (who normally has no problem looking at the world through Bush-tinted glasses) seems almost embarrassed trying to explain this concept to the rest of us.

But Lewis Carroll's Wonderland is not exactly the right metaphor to use to explain what passes for American foreign policy these days. To adequately do it justice, we must look to L. Frank Baum's Dorothy Gale. To wit: the wishful thinking of clicking your heels together and murmuring, "There's no place like home," should not be the basis of our foreign policy.

It's one thing to ignore the "reality-based community" on things like stem cells, birth control, and hurricanes; as the consequences of domestic errors in judgment tend to have a somewhat limited impact (after all, Louisiana and Mississippi didn't declare war on each other -- or FEMA, for that matter -- after the Katrina fiasco). But ignoring facts in the wide world outside America can lead to much more dire consequences.

Much to the world's dismay, the Bush White House has yet to learn this lesson.

To anyone who has been paying attention, this should come as no surprise. When President Bush took office, he was supremely confident that everything Bill Clinton had done was 100% wrong. Therefore (it followed) if he just asked "What would Bubba do?" and then did exactly the opposite, everything would be hunky-dory.

It's hard to remember the pre-9/11 early days of the Bush presidency, but his first plan for peace in the Middle East could be summed up as: "When you guys figure it out and everybody stops killing each other, then the United States will be happy to come in and claim credit." This sounds like an exaggeration or a caricature, but (sadly) it isn't. Since Clinton spent so much time trying to build peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the obvious solution to the problem (following the Bushian logic) was to completely ignore the region, and wait on the sidelines for peace to spontaneously develop.

If this sounds familiar, it's because it has been the only plan in Condi Rice's playbook for the past few weeks. You can almost hear Judy Garland singing in the background of Condi's recent press conferences:

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.

The situation in Israel and Lebanon isn't the only example of this wishful (wistful?) thinking, just the most relevant to today's news. At the very beginning of Bush's term, the Clinton national security apparatus warned the incoming Bush team that Osama Bin Laden was a huge threat, but again -- because Clinton believed it -- it could probably be safely ignored. And we all know how that turned out.

Post-9/11, things didn't get much better. First, there was Tora Bora. The might of the U.S. military cornered Osama Bin Laden in the mountains. But then to finish him off we send in a proxy army? That one turned out real well, too.

"There's no place like home... there's no place like home..."

Then there was Iraq. Generals are publicly saying that it would take hundreds of thousands of troops, or hundreds of billions of dollars? Well, they can just start looking for other jobs. Hans Blix says there are no WMDs in Iraq? Well, what does he know, he's part of the U.N. -- and we all know how incompetent they are. The State Department has a thoughtful, excruciatingly-detailed plan on how to rebuild Iraq after we invade? Well, just throw that puppy in the trash, since Don Rumsfeld has personally assured us all that we'll be greeted as liberators after we take Baghdad.

Scarecrow: "I haven't got a brain, only straw."
Dorothy: "How can you talk if you haven't got a brain?"
Scarecrow: "I don't know. But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking... don't they?"
Dorothy: "Yes, I guess you're right."

Sadly, there are too many of these episodes to adequately list here. The Pentagon says the missile defense system doesn't yet work and needs more time? Well, they're not clapping hard enough to save Tinkerbell, and we should just go ahead and deploy that turkey anyway. It'll work when we need it -- because Bush says it will! Anyone who says otherwise is obviously a treasonous liberal, or a Democrat, or something.

[OK, that Tinkerbell reference was a metaphor too far. I apologize. I got carried away.]

North Korea wants to talk to us directly? Well, in our perfect world-view, we can't talk to them unless four other countries are at the table, so we'll just ignore them in the hopes that they'll have an epiphany, see the error of their ways, and volunteer to stop processing plutonium and uranium.

What's that? Iran is going ahead with their nuclear program, too? Well, we can't talk to them, since they're part of that Evil Axis. We'll just let the Europeans dither with them for a while until they see the same light as North Korea, and decide their whole nuclear program is a bad idea.

And now Hezbollah has drawn Israel into a war with Lebanon? Well, we'll send Condi Rice over to talk to folks. Except that the only folks she'll talk to are Israelis. Lebanon is so disgusted with us that they won't even bother talking, and we certainly can't talk to Syria because they're buddies with Iran. So Condi's going to magically make everything better by talking to only one side of the equation? No wonder she looks so embarrassed.

This is after we allowed Israel to pound southern Lebanon flat, since the Israelis have assured us that they had Lebanon's best interests at heart in doing so. They patiently explained that this is what the Lebanese government would have asked them to do -- if it only had the guts. Once Hezbollah is wiped from the map and obliterated, then the U.S. and the U.N. and the rest of the world can come in and oversee the birth of the new paradigm for the Middle East. And (no doubt) the people will greet us as liberators and throw flowers at Rumsfeld.

Jimmy Carter puts it much more politely than I ever could, writing about the Middle East situation recently in the Washington Post -- but you can still sense his frustration: "A major impediment to progress is Washington's strange policy that dialogue on controversial issues will be extended only as a reward for subservient behavior and will be withheld from those who reject U.S. assertions." In other words, if other countries don't buy in to Bush's fantasy of how the world works, then we won't even talk to them.

There's an old saying: "Hope for the best, plan for the worst, and take what comes." Unfortunately, the Bush neo-cons have twisted this to read: "Assure everyone the best will happen, fire anybody who even mentions a worse outcome (and smear as a traitor anyone who mentions the 'worst' outcome, since they're obviously rooting for the terrorists), and then refuse to face reality when things turn out differently."

Remember when Republicans told us that "the adults" were back in charge in the White House, and everything was going to be fine? But we've all seen since then that the problem with looking at the world through a rosy-colored lens of ideology is that, in the real world, magic ruby slippers don't actually exist. So clicking your heels together and repeating "there's no place like home" over and over again just makes you look like a stubborn child when your predictions don't even come close to what actually happens.

The difference between adults and children is supposed to be the ability to distinguish between fantasy (or "make-believe") and reality. By this measure, the Bush administration is trapped in Oz... or Wonderland... or even Never-Never Land -- while the rest of us have to deal with the adult consequences of their denial of reality. And that really is scary.

[Bonus points for those who post comments to this article by creatively using the lyrics of the Scarecrow's signature song: "If I Only Had A Brain."]