The president returns to Washington today after another vacation in Crawford, Texas, and the White House hopes that talk of immigration reform and the Samuel Alito nomination will distract the public from worries over the war in Iraq and continuing developments in the CIA leak case.
As for George W. Bush? He doesn't need any distracting. Two new reports -- one in the New Yorker, one in the New York Daily News -- suggest that the president is living in a state of denial about the troubles facing him and the country he is supposed to lead for three more years.
In the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh tells the tale of a former senior administration official who visited Iraq after the 2004 presidential election and returned to inform Bush that the war wasn't going well. "I said to the president, 'We're not winning the war,'" the official told Hersh. "And he asked, 'Are we losing?' I said, 'Not yet.'" Bush was "displeased" with the answer, the official told Hersh. "I tried to tell him. And he couldn't hear it."
Hersh paints the picture of a president who believes that he was chosen by God to lead the United States after 9/11, a man whose faith blots out any concern over setbacks in Iraq. "The president is more determined than ever to stay the course," a former defense official tells Hersh. "Bush is a believer in the adage 'People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.'" The former official tells Hersh that Karl Rove and Dick Cheney reinforce the president's delusions by having him appear only in front of friendly audiences and keeping him "in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway." Bush, the former official says, has no idea that he's living in a bubble.
In the Daily News, Thomas DeFrank and Kenneth Bazinet say the state of denial extends well beyond Bush. They quote a "card-carrying member of the Washington GOP establishment with close ties to the White House" who dined recently with several senior presidential aides and left shaking his head. "There is just no introspection there at all," he said. "It is everybody else's fault -- the press, gutless Republicans on the Hill. They're still in denial." Another "close Bush confidant" says: "The staff basically still has an unyielding belief in the wisdom of what they're doing. They're talking to people who could help them, but they're not listening."
Meanwhile, the Daily News says, the president is growing paranoid about the people around him, furious over leaks about the mood inside the White House but unsure which of his aides is spreading the stories. One "knowledgeable source" says: "He's asking [friends] for opinions on who he can trust and who he can't."