AUSTIN -- There was the president at his press conference looking just like a turtle on a fence post. "They (weapons of mass destruction) could still be there. They could be hidden." Saddam Hussein is still an "ally" of the 9-11 terrorists. Hussein was still "a direct threat" to America. Oi.

            The Nation points out a charming little Bush thesis: "Some of the debate really centers around the fact that people don't believe Iraq can be free; that if you're Muslim, or perhaps brown-skinned, you can't be self-governing or free." The infamous "some people" making this racist argument are cleverly hidden: I never heard of it before Bush trotted it out.

            I got a lovely question last week: "Why do you and your ilk (it's hard to speak for my entire ilk) hate George W. Bush so much and love Osama bin Laden?" If that's what public discussion has come down to, we really are in trouble. In fact, we're in trouble anyway.

            According to the Rand think tank study on peacekeeping, we would need 500,000 troops in Iraq just to provide security. Guess what? We don't have 'em. We're stuck big time. It may not be Vietnam, but it's sure a quagmire.

            A heavy contender in the Immortal Idiocy category is Paul Wolfowitz's pre-war assertion to Congress, "There is no history of ethnic conflict in Iraq." According to a report in the New York Times, Sunni, Shi'a and Kurds are all arming themselves in anticipation of civil war. (Some superb reporting from Iraq is being done by John Kifner and John Burns in the Times.)

            The perpetually peevish pundit George Will has condescended to explain to us all that our problems in Iraq are but the obligations of empire. Yup, Bwana Will-ji says we gotta take up the white man's burden. "Regime change, occupation, nation-building -- in a word, empire --are a bloody business. Now Americans must steel themselves for administering the violence necessary to disarm or defeat Iraq's urban militias." That's us, gotta steel ourselves to administer the necessary violence because THEY are making us do it. One assumes after penning this advice, Bwana Will-ji grabbed the memsahib and headed on down to the Imperialists' Ball.

            Meanwhile, the Heathers (as Washington's lightweight pundits are collectively known) are atwitter over the new Bob Woodward book. From reading secondhand accounts of it, the item that stopped me was not when Bush decided to invade Iraq --- as per Clinton's testimony to the 9-11 commission and Paul O'Neill's book, Bush apparently wanted to invade from before he was sworn in. It's the Prince Bandar story that left me whomper-jawed. Do you remember when someone who was connected to someone who was connected to someone who was connected to China was found to have raised money for Bill Clinton? The right wing came completely unglued over it, and all manner of hideous conspiracy theories were advanced. Maybe the Saudis trying to influence our elections shouldn't startle me -- the new book "House of Bush, House of Saud" is all about that connection. Still, the non-denial denials from the White House and the Saudis smell like rotten meat. Just what we need, a prez in hock to the Saudis.

             One of the eerie things about Bush's press conference performance was just how divorced from reality he is. Not only is he still claiming we're going to find the WMD and that Saddam Hussein was linked to 9-11, but he actually claimed we went to war to save the credibility of the United Nations. The man is living in Fantasyland.

            As Lewis Lapham points out in an essay in the current Harper's, we are seeing "the systematic substitution of ideological certainty for reasonable doubt across the entire spectrum of issues bearing on the public health and welfare. ... The disdain for disloyal or unpatriotic fact defines the Bush Administration's approach not only to questions likely to embarrass the oil, weapons and insurance industries but also to those that might interfere with its fanciful conceptions of war and money." Lapham cites the report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, "Scientific Integrity in Policymaking," a depressing collection of instances in which the administration has either censored or ignored scientific fact. Those who have known Bush for a long time know he is capable of leaving the realm of fact and logic in favor of his "gut" or "instinct" on several issues. It seems to me the trait is becoming more pronounced.

            Denying that Iraq is a rapidly escalating tragedy will do nothing to help us or the Iraqis get out of it. Pointing out that it's a mess does not make one a fan of Osama bin Laden nor a bigot concerning "brown-skinned people." Let's get a grip here, team.

            To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.