AUSTIN, Texas — Royal Masset, a Texas Republican political consultant who has been accused of being less than brilliant, recently had this to say about Karl Rove: “I think we actually like Karl a lot more now than we did when he was more active locally.” He told the San Antonio Express-News he believed that Rove in Washington is remaining loyal to Bush while “fighting the good fight. He’s fighting budgets. He’s fighting wars. He’s doing conservative kinds of things.”

When Rove was in Texas, Masset continued, “there was a real sense of him being a total self-centered [person] who didn’t care about anybody. He would literally destroy people who tried to oppose him.”

Plenty o’ food for thought in that. But first we should maybe figure out how to smuggle Royal out of the country with a fake passport.

The Bushies are having the hardest time trying to un-lie now. For example, at his Monday press conference the president asserted, “Nobody’s ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the [Sept. 11] attack.”

How true: What Vice President Cheney in December 2001 said about links between 9/11 and Iraq was that it was “pretty well confirmed” that hijacking ringleader Mohammed Atta had met with Iraqi intelligence. On June 17, 2004, Cheney said: “We have never been able to confirm that, nor have we been able to knock it down, we just don’t know. … I can’t refute the Czech claim, I can’t prove the Czech claim, I just don’t know.”

In July 2004, the CIA’s own report stated the agency did not have “any credible information” that the alleged meeting ever took place. The CIA said the whole concoction was based on a single source “whose veracity … has been questioned” and that the Iraqi official allegedly involved was in U.S. custody and denied the meeting ever took place. The 9/11 commission had already concluded that the meeting never occurred.

Cheney has a consistent pattern of exaggeration on intelligence related to Iraq. The tragedy is that at least half the American people believed Saddam Hussein was connected to the 9/11 plot — and most soldiers serving in Iraq still believe this.

It’s pretty embarrassing when the British intelligence services, MI5 and MI6, accuse the FBI of leaking like a sieve. British intelligence has a lengthy history in the leaking-like-a-sieve department — so that’s some pot calling our kettle black. Nevertheless, they are making the point that our leaks about the “liquid terror” plot have pretty well bollixed up the case. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was so annoyed he referred to the entire Bush performance in the Middle East as “crap.” This truth-telling has gone too far.

Or, come to think of it, maybe it’s just begun — and it’s high damn time we got on with it. I’d suggest starting with the reality on the ground. Iraq is a disaster. The most credible estimate of how long it would take to fix it — if it is fixable — is 10 to 25 more years and a commensurate amount of dollars. Is it doable? Is it worth it? What are the consequences if we do or do not continue the effort? What are the consequences if the most likely result of our withdrawal — partition into three parts — takes place? (That’s also a likely consequence of our staying.)

It seems to me that those who advocate withdrawal ASAP have just as much of a duty to make the arguments for doing so — and to admit how much they don’t know — as those who got us into this mess five years ago with that titanic combination of misinformation and ignorance.

Let’s start with what Donald Rumsfeld once described as “the known unknowns” and then see how far we get. Let’s have what we should have had at the beginning — as informed and unideological a debate as possible, with attention to the effects on our allies and the region. Onward.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and see works by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website,

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