President Bush claimed repeatedly last week in a short public appearance that progress was being made in Iraq.

Regrettably, progress is proving as impossible to find as the weapons of mass destruction that drove us into war.

“Political progress … is taking place in that country,” Bush said in his prepared text from his ranch in Crawford, Texas. “We’re helping them succeed. We have a strategy to help them succeed.”

Responding to reporters’ questions, Bush said: “We’re making progress training the Iraqis. Oh, I know it’s hard for some Americans to see that progress, but we are making progress.”

With the backdrop of Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he said, “I am pleased with the progress being made when it comes to training Iraqi units.”

He again repeated his message: “And so we’re monitoring progress. The important thing for the American people to know is we are making progress. There’s a political track on which we’re making progress, and a security track on which we’re making progress.”

Public opinion polls show that Americans aren’t buying the claim of progress or Bush’s war leadership, which is, of course, why he needed to pitch his case while on a long vacation.

If progress were apparent, Bush would have no reason to misstate the situation or duck a meeting with Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a slain soldier, who is camped outside his ranch wanting a face-to-face meeting with the president to ask why her son needed to die.

Sheehan’s question and Bush’s assertion are coiled together. Instead of meeting with her, President Bush spoke in her direction with a mini-press conference that indirectly answered her question: Her son died for progress in Iraq.

The president’s claim of progress, however, is misdirection—misdirection is a polite way to say deception.

Deception is one of the oldest of human sins. It has biblical roots in the creation story when the man and woman hid themselves among the trees of the garden from God. When God asked where they were, the man answered deceptively that he was afraid because of his nakedness. When God asked if the man had eaten the forbidden fruit, the man replied with more deception. He blamed his actions on the woman, given him by God, who had led him to eat the fruit.

On first reading, the text shows clearly that the man tried to deceive God. On second reading, the story creates speculation about the man’s own self-deception. Did he at some level see himself as innocent, the victim of what God had done to him with the woman who led him into sin? Did he think that he bore no responsibility for disobedience?

The sin of deception cuts two ways. One is misleading others, hiding the truth and covering up wrongful behavior. The other is misleading oneself about what really happened and avoiding one’s own accountability for it.

Misleading the nation about progress is one thing. Self-deception through repetitive claims is another, maybe even a more dangerous problem.

Things are going badly in Iraq. At press time, the current death rate for American soldiers will make August the deadliest month in 2005. Four more Americans were killed on Thursday in a roadside bombing in a place that the military had reportedly taken back from the insurgents. Baghdad experienced the deadliest bombings this year. The unemployment rate is high. The availability of electricity is erratic. The constitutional process is bogged down and carries too many unrealistic expectations about authentic democracy. Innocent Iraqis continue to die at a steady clip.

Where’s the progress in Iraq?

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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