SARASOTA, Fla. -- Media watch alert: a curious double distortion in the media mirror, as the situation in Iraq unravels before our eyes. Iraq gets less media play for two reasons -- one an old media fault, and the other political.

As the story gets worse, it also becomes more familiar. We've heard it before, quite a few times, and consequently it doesn't get as much play. "Seven Marines Killed" or "Scores Are Dead After Violence Spreads in Iraq" would have been HUGE stories a year ago. Now they're just another bad day in Iraq, nothin' new here, no news. Back to the hurricane (which is also becoming unpleasantly old news).

The other factor is the Bush team's decision to drop this misbegotten war down the memory hole. Two parts at play here. The first is Teddy Roosevelt's splendid observation that the presidency is a bully pulpit. It is the single most useful public relations position in the world. When the president calls a press conference to talk about whatever he wants, all hands report for duty. And if the president doesn't mention a certain subject, nor does the veep, nor the secretaries of defense, state, etc., the media have to dig it up on their own, a responsibility at which we have often failed and are steadily getting worse.

The second part is that John Kerry is not in a particularly good position to bring up the subject himself. Through some truly adroit political maneuvering (I am tempted but resolutely resist use of the word genius), every time Kerry opens his mouth about Iraq these days, the Bush camp bursts into a loud, well-trained chorus of "He's changing his position again. Yoo-hoo, flip-flop!"

One way to deal with that would be for Kerry to hold a press conference and announce he is, finally, at long last, actually changing his mind -- but the political way is to step up his opposition without ever admitting he supported this misbegotten mess. Hell, if George W. Bush can't think of a single mistake he's made (not to mention still claiming he got into the Texas Air Nationa Guard all by himself), why should Kerry admit one?

Meanwhile, back in reality, incredibly enough, the Bush team continues to make things in Iraq worse!

Ignoring the First Rule of Holes (when in one, quit digging), the geniuses in the White House are actually busy making this fiasco worse. According to The Washington Post, it was the White House that decided, against the advice of military commanders on the ground, to order the troops into Fallujah after four American construction workers were killed and their bodies mutilated.

I'm sure Gen. Rove decided we couldn't afford to look weak in the face of such provocation given the poll numbers at the time. Worse, it was the tactical geniuses at the White House who then decided, again against the advice of the military commanders on the ground, to withdraw the troops from Fallujah. Come on, people, if I hear one more person accusing those of us who oppose this war of having "Vietnam flashbacks," I'm going to urp. When will they ever learn?

Of course Bush is entitled to ask Kerry, "So what would you do about the disaster I've created?" Trouble is, the various initiatives and proposals Kerry has come up in the course of the making of this quagmire (known to Republicans as "flip-flops" and "switching positions") would have worked, but those times are gone, wasted by our "steadfast" commander in chief who can't see anything clearly.

There was a time when it would have helped to have more troops on the ground -- we could have stopped the looting and actually imposed order. That would have meant following Army Chief of Staff Gen. Erik Shinseki's advice, instead of the military geniuses in the White House. There was a time when we could have seriously gone after more international support and gotten our allies to help pay for this costly botch. But that would have meant admitting our allies had been right about too many things, and the White House was too busy smirking, bowing and crowing to improve its diplomacy after the war one iota over the offensive, unnecessary alienation of allies it worked so hard on before the war.

There was a time when we could have been more sensitive toward the Iraqis themselves -- for example, by not moving our headquarters into Saddam Hussein's palace or shutting down their newspaper -- to them what democracy is all about -- or keeping Abu Ghraib open.

Speaking of Abu Ghraib, what happened there is not the Marshall Plan. Nor is giving billions of dollars to Halliburton and all the jobs to non-Iraqis a Marshall Plan. The Busies have slowly, one-by-one, destroyed every chance we had to make this occupation work. And then they blame Kerry for not coming up with a plan.

Now we have Dick Cheney warning us that if we don't vote for Bush, we'll all die. Good thing they're not making national security a political issue!

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