Boston Red Sox manager Grady Little’s team was on track to beat the New York Yankees in the American League baseball playoffs when he made the decision to stick with a faltering star pitcher rather than change strategy and call in relief help. Thus he became the former manager of the Boston Red Sox.

Playing on a somewhat larger field, George W. Bush seems to be morphing into Grady Little.

Bush had a wonderful plan: knock over Saddam Hussein like a cardboard cutout, install a friendly, somewhat democratic, government in oil-rich Iraq and send a message to our enemies — “Don’t mess with George Dubya.”

The knocking over part went as planned, but not much else. In much of Iraq we find ourselves a hated occupier engulfed by a demoralizing guerrilla war. Each day brings grim news of fresh casualties, seemingly at an ever-escalating rate.

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The gross casualty numbers do not approach the level of Vietnam — yet — but more American men and women have been killed in the war since Bush declared it over than had died before. And the number of seriously wounded, seldom mentioned by the administration (or by the press, for that matter) has reached appalling levels.

A Washington Post reporter visited the Walter Reed military hospital recently and found a scene reminiscent of the Civil War when, because of primitive medical technology, battlefield injuries almost always resulted in amputation. Our kids are getting cut up over there.

And through it all President Bush sits, like Grady Little, frozen at the controls, declaring that his plan is working. He even had the gall to declare that recent attacks on our troops are proof that we’re making progress. Shortly after he said it, guerrillas shot down a U.S. helicopter, killing 16 and wounding at least 21.

Even Lyndon Johnson, Vietnam’s Dr. Pangloss, would have been hard-pressed to see light at the end of that tunnel.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised at Bush’s inability, or unwillingness, to face the facts of the mess in Iraq. He is, after all, a fundamentalist Christian.

Fundamentalists are creatures of belief and for them beliefs trump facts, always. They don’t have to prove what they believe. What are mere facts, after all, compared to the Word of God. We are good, Saddam Hussein is evil. That’s all we know and that’s all we need to know.

What that position gains in moral clarity, it more than loses in usefulness. So got we rid of Saddam. Good for us. Now what?

It seems to me that our efforts in Iraq have been marked by an abysmal ignorance both of the region and of the pitfalls of trying to turn that country into Switzerland. We have ignored the counsel of people who have spent their lives studying the area in favor of advice from ideologues of questionable expertise.

Bush makes no pretense of seeking out opinion he disagrees with. The other week, he told an interviewer that he almost never reads newspapers or watches the news on television. “The best way to get the news is from objective sources,” Bush said. “And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what’s happening in the world.”

That rings true when you think about it. How else are we to explain his repeated declarations that Iraqi guerrillas and their foreign allies are attacking us because we are a freedom-loving nation? His gang actually thinks that people are strapping explosives to their bodies and blowing themselves up because they hate freedom.

The political campaigns have started and commentators are wondering whether any of the Democrats can beat President Bush in 2004.

I don’t understand the question. What’s to beat? As a patriotic American, I am loathe to call the president of the United States an incompetent nincompoop. But I’ll say this: He’s giving a marvelous imitation of one. Jerry Springer should be able to beat him.

Hell, Grady Little should be able to beat him.

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Donald Kaul

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This is the third in an occasional series of his earlier commentaries. OtherWords.org

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