For the past year, I've been studying and writing about the fanatics running the White House and the fools on both sides of the aisle who have enabled them to prevail.
Bob Woodward has now given us a chilling behind-the-scenes look at how this dysfunctional dynamic drove us to war in Iraq -- providing devastating snapshots of both the evidence-be-damned zealotry of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their minions, and the craven capitulation of White House enablers Powell, Tenet, Rice and Hughes.
Woodward's portrait of this last group is particularly damning: an assemblage of cowards and sycophants who knew full well that the truth was being sacrificed on the altar of Dick Cheney's "fevered" obsession with Saddam, but who did nothing to stop the butchery. A very special Circle of Hell must be reserved for them.
Piled on top of the insider accounts by Paul O'Neill and Richard Clarke, Woodward's book delivers the coup de grace to any lingering doubt that the Bush administration is teeming with fanatics for whom evidence is little more than an obstacle on the path to greater glory.
We see a president for whom staying the course -- even if the course is leading us over the edge of a cliff -- is a badge of honor, and for whom a questioning mind-set is anathema reserved for, well, wimps. And George the Younger was going to have none of that this time around. Sorry, Dad. Bush is also terrifyingly insulated; if it wasn't coming from Cheney or Rummy -- or Prince Bandar -- he wasn't listening.
We see a vice president so obsessed with linking Saddam to 9/11, that no piece of intelligence that supports this hypothesis is deemed too unreliable to be used. Cheney was like an al-Qaida alchemist, converting shards of faulty or ambiguous information into golden reasons for preemptive war. Who knew that the soundtrack to the shock and awe of Baghdad would be Cheney's karaoke take on Peggy Lee: "Fever 'til you sizzle/ What a lovely way to burn!"?
As frightening as this collective fanaticism is -- and there can be few things more unnerving than leaders willing to lie to get their way -- it's hardly surprising. Bush and Co. have been flouting the truth since the moment the Supreme Court handed them the keys to the White House.
What is a surprise is how easily -- and willingly -- the White House fools went along with the program.
Colin Powell believed in his heart that war with Iraq could -- indeed, should -- be avoided. But instead of making a principled stand, he made like a good soldier and fell into line. He was further out of the war loop than the ambassador from the home country of 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers -- but when the president asked him to carry his sample vial of anthrax at the United Nations, Powell was so flattered he dutifully set out to hoodwink the world.
In Dante's "Inferno," deceivers are sentenced to have their souls encased in flames, hypocrites are forced to wear a cloak weighted with lead, and those who use their powers of persuasion for insidious ends are doomed to suffer a continual fever so intense that their body sizzles and smokes like a steak tossed on a George Foreman grill. Maybe Satan will give Powell a three-afflictions-for-the-price-of-one deal.
At least the secretary of state won't be lonely in the underworld. He'll have George Tenet and Karen Hughes right by his smoldering side. Tenet knew that the intel on Iraqi WMD was thinner than Lara Flynn Boyle on Dexatrim but was so desperate to get on Cheney and Bush's good side that he turned himself into the Dick Vitale of WMD: "It's a slam dunk, baby!"
Hughes was just as spineless. After listening to Scooter Libby foam at the mouth for an hour, rabidly trying to sell the Cheney case for war to a jury of administration heavy-hitters, Hughes gave the overheated and hyperbolic presentation two thumbs down. But instead of counseling the president to rethink his preemptive plans, Hughes sat back and watched as the job of making the shaky case to the world was transferred from Libby to Powell. Forget fixing the message; they merely switched messengers.
In the Bible, Jesus makes it clear that those who have been exposed to the truth have a higher obligation than the uninformed: "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, you cannot escape your guilt."
The White House fanatics -- blinded by their zealotry -- should suffer the wrath of the electorate and be voted out of office. But the fools who enabled them must face an even harsher form of retribution. Eternal damnation is the ultimate long, hard slog.