PROGRESS?….Look, I’m not one who proclaims every attack in Iraq as proof that the administration is incompetent, but what can you make of George Bush’s remarks after this weekend’s alarmingly sophisticated attacks, first on the hotel Paul Wolfowitz was staying at and then on the Red Cross headquarters and four police stations?

President Bush this morning said the increasing attacks on U.S. personnel and supporters in Iraq are a sign of progress because the attacks indicate Iraqi opponents are getting increasingly desperate.

And just in case you thought Bush was merely speaking carelessly, Scott McClellan repeated the theme:

“We’ve always said the more progress we make, the more desperate the killers will become,” the spokesman said. Asked how it could be determined that the attacks signaled desperation rather than sophistication, McClellan repeated: “The more progress we make toward a free and prosperous Iraq, the more desperate they will become.

If this is “progress,” what would count as a setback?

The conventional wisdom from the 1992 election is that Bush I lost not so much because the economy was lousy, but because he was perceived as not being engaged enough to acknowedge that the economy was lousy and then do something about it. Unfair, maybe, but there you go.

Bush II, of course, learned a lesson from this: he’s been a beehive of tax-cutting activity from the day he took office. But I wonder if he realizes that there’s a general lesson to be learned from his father’s failure that applies to more than just the economy? If his reaction to ever increasing attacks in Iraq is that, basically, everything is OK and victory is right around the corner, he runs the risk of seeming just as detached from reality as his father.

The lesson he needs to learn isn’t from 1992, it’s from 1968. The public didn’t turn against the Vietnam War because we lost the Tet Offensive ? in fact, it was a considerable military victory ? but because Tet made it obvious that our leaders had been lying about how much progress we were making. Americans may not mind a “long, hard slog,” but they do mind a president who seems willfully out of touch with reality.

Bush and his advisors risk the same fate as LBJ unless they publicly acknowledge that the situation in Iraq is serious and then provide some sense that they have a realistic plan for turning things around. I don’t doubt that internally they understand this, but their happy talk PR campaign gives no sign of it, and they’re going to pay a price if they keep it up.

POSTSCRIPT: Phil Carter has some good analysis of the seriousness and sophistication of these attacks.

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