By BOB HERBERT
You have to wonder whether reality ever comes knocking on George W. Bush's door. If it did, would the president with the unsettling demeanor of a boy king even bother to answer? Mr. Bush is the commander in chief who launched a savage war in Iraq and now spends his days happily riding his bicycle in Texas.
This is eerie. Scary. Surreal.
The war is going badly and lives have been lost by the thousands, but there is no real sense, either at the highest levels of government or in the nation at large, that anything momentous is at stake. The announcement on Sunday that five more American soldiers had been blown to eternity by roadside bombs was treated by the press as a yawner. It got very little attention.
You can turn on the television any evening and tune in to the bizarre extended coverage of the search for Natalee Holloway, the Alabama teenager who disappeared in Aruba in May. But we hear very little about the men and women who have given up their lives in Iraq, or are living with horrific injuries suffered in that conflict.
If only the war were more entertaining. Less of a downer. Perhaps then we could meet the people who are suffering and dying in it.
For all the talk of supporting the troops, they are a low priority for most Americans. If the nation really cared, the president would not be frolicking at his ranch for the entire month of August. He'd be back in Washington burning the midnight oil, trying to figure out how to get the troops out of the terrible fix he put them in.
Instead, Mr. Bush is bicycling as soldiers and marines are dying. Dozens have been killed since he went off on his vacation.
As for the rest of the nation, it's not doing much for the troops, either. There was a time, long ago, when war required sacrifices that were shared by most of the population. That's over.
I was in Jacksonville, Fla., a few days ago and watched in amusement as a young woman emerged from a restaurant into 95-degree heat and gleefully exclaimed, "All right, let's go shopping!" The war was the furthest thing from her mind.
For the most part, the only people sacrificing for this war are the troops and their families, and very few of them are coming from the privileged economic classes. That's why it's so easy to keep the troops out of sight and out of mind. And it's why, in the third year of a war started by the richest nation on earth, we still get stories like the one in Sunday's Times
"For the second time since the Iraq war began, the Pentagon is struggling to replace body armor that is failing to protect American troops from the most lethal attacks by insurgents."
Scandalous incompetence? Appalling indifference? Try both. Who cares? This is a war fought mostly by other people's children. The loudest of the hawks are the least likely to send their sons or daughters off to Iraq.
The president has never been clear about why we're in Iraq. There's no plan, no strategy. In one of the many tragic echoes of Vietnam, U.S. troops have been fighting hellacious battles to seize areas controlled by insurgents, only to retreat and allow the insurgents to return.
If Mr. Bush were willing to do something he has refused to do so far - speak plainly and honestly to the American people about this war - he might be able to explain why U.S. troops should continue with an effort that is, in large part at least, benefiting Iraqi factions that are murderous, corrupt and terminally hostile to women. If by some chance he could make that case, the next appropriate step would be to ask all Americans to do their part for the war effort.
College kids in the U.S. are playing video games and looking forward to frat parties while their less fortunate peers are rattling around like moving targets in Baghdad and Mosul, trying to dodge improvised explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades.
There is something very, very wrong with this picture.
If the war in Iraq is worth fighting - if it's a noble venture, as the hawks insist it is - then it's worth fighting with the children of the privileged classes. They should be added to the combat mix. If it's not worth their blood, then we should bring the other troops home.
If Mr. Bush's war in Iraq is worth dying for, then the children of the privileged should be doing some of the dying.