IN THE Magic Kingdom, dreams really do come true. It's the cardinal rule of the Florida fantasyland Disney built. Equally important in the enchanted place is that everyone gets along, evil never triumphs over good, life flourishes on wishful thinking, and nobody has a bad day. If it wasn't for the heat, I could have stayed there indefinitely.
Who wouldn't want to live happily ever after in a small world where Goofy is a star and rodents are as highly regarded as royalty? In such a whimsical utopia it's all about escaping the boundaries that foolishly bind us and playing make-believe that differences can actually unite rather than divide.
In such a perfect place, where every bit of mortar, brick, and paint is designed to fan the illusion of fun and fiction, it's easy to believe life is a lark. But eventually, as is always the case, Reality-land reminds the daydreamer that Disney is only a day trip. Soon enough, bills come due and payments must be rendered. It's the cardinal rule of the real world, which runs on what is instead of what is pretend. Those who refuse to accept that reality sometimes wind up in prison or the loony bin.
But in rare circumstances, they occasionally rise to great heights as world leaders. Of course they are prone to reckless flights of fancy, as we can attest to in the United States with our current run of delusional leadership.
In the make-believe world of George W. Bush and friends, democracy should thrive where it never has before in the Middle East, given the opportunity to do so by an invading army. All Iraq needed was the military muscle of an occupying force to embrace representative government at the point of a gun.
Why it has not done so with enthusiasm is difficult for the administration to explain. In its fantasia on the Euphrates, the fiercely competing interests of the region's ethnic, religious, and cultural factions are downplayed. In its implausible scenario, Iraq would eagerly unite behind the chance to become an oil-rich ally of its liberators.
But in hindsight - and foresight - it was plainly fanciful to believe the fall of Saddam Hussein would usher in a new wave of Iraqi nationalism that would neutralize deep internal conflicts and magically transform the country into a fledgling democratic state. In reality, religion and culture matter a great deal in Iraq and toppling a despot did less to mend the country than to tear it apart.
Yet in the elaborately contrived vision of the Bush White House, if Americans would just be patient, eventually Iraqis will grow to love their occupiers, lay down their arms, and peacefully participate in land-sharing, oil profits, and power.
We are now in the fifth deadly year of a failed nation-building experiment in Iraq and George W. is still clinging to the illusion that "complete victory" in that imploding country is inevitable. With renewed fanaticism, the White House has begun spinning its old standby fairytale of Iraq's long, tortured love affair with al-Qaeda.
It's a last-ditch deception to play on the fears of an impressionable public, but the ploy worked before to sell a pre-emptive invasion. There will be no happy ending in Baghdad or the United States, President Bush warns Americans, if our soldiers retreat from the center of the war on terror. His story conveniently slides over the escalating sectarian violence roiling Iraq.
But once upon a time, when U.S. military forces got caught up in a raging civil war between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis, doesn't play as well as fighting a noble crusade to save the world from al-Qaeda. It's a fable the Bush Administration has started peddling again to distract those who desperately want to believe that more than 3,600 Americans didn't die for nothing.
There's no pretending that the U.S. cost of invading Iraq has not been staggering, both in lives lost and battlefield wounds sustained. And nearly half a trillion American dollars have been spent on Operation Iraqi Freedom with little to show for it.
It seems clear to everyone but the Bush White House that Iraq is not the Magic Kingdom. It's a place where life is cheap and bad days are the norm.
And in Iraq, nightmares are not figments of the imagination but real, graphic horrors that are impossible to escape. Even the fantastic spin constructed by the administration to put the best face on the dreadful drama can't make it disappear.
That only happens in special theme parks where dreams become reality for a day in the land of happily-ever-after.