A television adaptation of Nebula Award-winning author John Kessel’s short story "A Clean Escape," which aired on ABC’s new sci-fi anthology series titled Masters of Science Fiction, is set in a post-Apocalypse future, but it reminded me of current events. Psychiatrist Deanna Evans interrogates a distinguished but disoriented man who appears to be suffering from a memory lapse. After a climactic buildup, it is revealed—and this is a spoiler alert, if you don’t want the story ruined—that he is the U.S. president, responsible for a global nuclear holocaust. They are two of a few hundred survivors of a nuclear war that resulted from the president’s decision to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against a "rogue nation." Yet, not remembering what happened, he is unable to acknowledge his role or to take responsibility.
Kessel’s president lives in a world of make believe, in which he is a patriotic American, committed to serving his country and ensuring that democracy reigns supreme worldwide. No, he says again and again, there was no nuclear holocaust! No, America is prospering and his family is alive and well! No, he isn’t the president, just a hard-working citizen! But Dr. Evans forces him to overcome what could be a form of short-term memory loss and face reality. She shows him photographs of the destroyed White House, of the dead bodies of his wife and daughter, of devastated cities. "Mission accomplished, president?" she asks.
Sound vaguely familiar? Indeed, at times it seems to me that President George W. Bush and his advisers, not unlike the fictional president in "A Clean Escape," reside in a world of make believe of their own creation—let’s call it the "Neocon World."
In their alternate reality, the ouster of Saddam Hussein was part of the war on the terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks. In the real world, Saddam Hussein had no ties to al-Qaida, whose leaders and members are now hiding in Pakistan (which in the Neocon World is an ally of the United States in the war against al-Qaida). In the Neocon World, there were WMDs in Iraq. In the real world, such Iraqi WMDs do not exist. In the Neocon World, the United States has liberated Iraq. In the real world, U.S. troops are facing a powerful insurgency, and most Iraqis want them out. In the Neocon World, the United States has turned Mesopotamia into a model of political and economic freedom. In the real world, Iraq is ruled by a Shiite government committed to narrow ethnic interests and religious values, its economy is ruined, and it is disintegrating into a bloody civil war. In the Neocon World, the United States is now spreading democracy in the Middle East. In the real world, the United States is providing huge arms packages to help strengthen the power of the theocracy of Saudi Arabia and the military regime of Egypt. In the Neocon World, the Iraq War is strengthening the position of the United States and its allies in the Middle East. In the real world, the Iraq War strengthened the hands of anti-American Iran and its allies in the Middle East, including Hezbollah and Hamas.
Remember Hezbollah and Hamas? Well, in the Neocon World, the Cedar Revolution and free elections in Lebanon helped empower the pro-Western forces in Lebanon. In reality, they helped empower the pro-Iran Hezbollah movement that represents the Shiite community. In the Neocon World, Israel’s attacks on Hezbollah and other targets in Lebanon were going to destroy the military and political infrastructure of that movement, and by extension weaken Iran. In the real world, the Israeli military operation in Lebanon turned Hezbollah and its leader into the most popular players in the Arab world and played into the hands of Iran. In the Neocon World, the free elections in Palestine were going to lead to the emergence of a moderate Palestinian government that would make peace in Israel. In the real world, the free election brought into power the radical Islamic Hamas that refused to recognize and make peace with Israel. In the Neocon World, economic sanctions against the Palestinians were expected to weaken the political and military power of the elected Hamas government. In the real world, Hamas overpowered the militias affiliated with the more secular and moderate (and corrupt) Fatah and forced them out of the Gaza Strip.
According to those in the Neocon World, we have arrived at a place and time when the Israelis and the Palestinians are close to reaching a peace deal. Which recalls another scene in the Neocon World, the one in which the Road to Jerusalem went through Baghdad—the assumption being that the rise of Iraq-the-Democratic-Model and the strengthening of the influence of U.S. power and values would encourage the Palestinians, backed by the entire Arab world, to make peace with Israel. In the real world, that clearly didn’t happen.
In the real world, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, presiding over a very unpopular government, opposes the terms that Israel offered Yasser Arafat and the Fatah leadership at Camp David in 2000 and which were then rejected by the Palestinians, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas continues to support the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees to Israel, which the majority of Israelis oppose. Also in the real world, the Israelis have been building a "security fence" that runs inside the occupied West Bank, resulting in many of the Jewish settlements there becoming part of Israel, something that the Palestinians won’t accept under any condition. And in the real world, the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million Palestinians continue to be ruled by Hamas, which does not recognize Mahmoud Abbas’ government.
But in the Neocon World, the Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, are so worried over the rising power of Iran and its Shiite allies that they are willing to push for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement under U.S. sponsorship as a way of strengthening the pro-U.S. forces in the Middle East—the Saudis are even willing to take part with Israel in a peace conference—what a great diplomatic achievement for the Bush administration! In the real world, the Saudis promoted a peace plan that Israel rejected, and they are not going to press the Palestinians to reach peace under current conditions. And the Saudis had already taken part with Israel in the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991, because unlike in the case of George W. Bush, they trusted President George H.W. Bush, who unlike his son actually won a war in the Gulf while getting U.S. troops safely home.
That happened not long ago in the real world. But Bush Junior, not unlike the ficitional president from "A Clean Escape," is living in a dream world, pretending that he’s doing well in the Neocon World, where the "surge" is working, the United States is winning in Iraq, and peace will soon come to the Promised Land and to the entire Middle East. It is a dangerous delusion.
Leon Hadar, a Washington-based journalist and contributor to Right Web (www.rightweb-online.org), is author most recently of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East (2006). He blogs at globalparadigms.blogspot.com.