Few Chinese emperors can have been as impervious to bad news from the front as President George W Bush. His officials were as assiduous as those eunuchs in Beijing 170 years ago in shielding him from bad news. But even when officials familiar with the real situation in Iraq did break through the bureaucratic cordon sanitaire around the Oval Office they got short shrift from Mr Bush. In December 2004 the CIA station chief in Baghdad said that the insurgency was expanding and was “largely unchallenged” in Sunni provinces. Mr Bush’s response was: “What is he, some kind of a defeatist?” A week later the station chief was reassigned.
A few days afterwards, Colonel Derek Harvey, the Defence Intelligence Agency’s senior intelligence officer in Iraq, made much the same point to Mr Bush. He said of the insurgency: “It’s robust, it’s well led, it’s diverse.” According to the US political commentator Sidney Blumenthal, the President at this point turned to his aides and asked: “Is this guy a Democrat?”
The query is perhaps key to Mr Bush’s priorities. The overriding political purpose of the US administration in invading Iraq was to retain power at home. It would do so by portraying Mr Bush as “the security president”, manipulating and exaggerating the terrorist threat at home and purporting to combat it abroad. It would win cheap military victories in Afghanistan and Iraq. It would hold “khaki” elections in which Democrats could be portrayed as unpatriotic poltroons.