LONDON — Our leaders would do well to reread “Alice Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll. If they can suppress their vanity for a moment, they should recognize that they have much in common with the White Queen. When Alice declares that “one can’t believe impossible things,” the queen retorts that “sometimes I have believed six impossible things before breakfast.” Politicians either believe impossible things or shut their eyes to unpleasant facts.

U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair say that the situation in Iraq is improving and assert that Iraq is on course toward establishing a stable democracy. Military commanders and their diplomatic representatives tell them this is not the case. Rather the situation in Iraq is akin to civil war. Every day scores of Iraqi civilians are killed or wounded, and to walk in the streets of Baghdad is extremely hazardous. The American commanders call for more troops on the ground, but Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. defense secretary, has only recently agreed to increase the number of U.S. forces in Iraq despite numerous earlier requests. He thought he knew better than his generals!

Bush and Blair assert that the fight against terrorism calls for the pacification of Afghanistan. This may be true, but it is now five years since American forces overthrew the Taliban and 20 British soldiers have been killed in the last few weeks in fierce fighting in southern Afghanistan. The British failed to pacify Afghanistan while they ruled India and suffered huge casualties in this lawless country. The Russians with all their arms and ruthlessness were equally unsuccessful. The wild mountains of the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan provide a haven for al-Qaida. Yet the British minister of defense at first alleged that the British forces were going to the Helmand province to help with development.

The Lebanese government, of which Hezbollah is a part, denies that the war started because Hezbollah launched a raid into Israel, in which two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped. It asserts that Hezbollah fired rockets only at military targets, when all the evidence shows that these weapons were mainly fired randomly at Israel settlements and most casualties were Israeli civilians.

Leftwing and Muslim demonstrators in Western capitals who proclaim their support for Hezbollah and deny Hezbollah’s provocation and terrorist connections are just as blind. Hezbollah and its backers in Iran have declared that their aim is to destroy Israel. In Iran the Holocaust is denied despite the overwhelming evidence that this was an act of horrific genocide by the evil Nazi regime.

Israeli leaders for their part declare that in attacks on Lebanon they were only attacking Hezbollah. Yet these attacks destroyed much of the infrastructure of Lebanon and killed over a thousand Lebanese, including a number of women and children. They also succeeded in displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians. Israel denies that its response was disproportionate and neither Bush nor Blair will criticize Israel, but the suffering of Lebanese civilians has been displayed on television screens in homes all over the world. The prospect of achieving a lasting settlement of the Palestine question has suffered a serious setback. Support for Hamas, which the Palestinians voted into power and which refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist, has increased in the Arab world. Israel and its backers in the United States seem to have lost the psychological war for hearts and minds.

The French government, having criticized the Americans and the British for failing to support an immediate ceasefire, launched a U.N. initiative for a cessation of hostilities to be policed by increased U.N. contingents in Southern Lebanon. It was generally expected from French comments that France would not only command the new force but provide a substantial contingent of perhaps 3,000 men, but so far the French have only provided a few hundred noncombat engineers. One reason may be that the French have no wish to accept any responsibility for disarming Hezbollah. Actions once again do not match words.

British politicians deny strenuously that British foreign policy in the Middle East has anything to do with the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in Britain. This assertion is repeated despite published official intelligence assessments to the contrary. Of course, British foreign policy in the Middle East cannot in any way justify acts of terrorism and Islamic leaders who defend the terrorists on the grounds that British foreign policy is to blame are defending the indefensible. But British leaders who deny that British foreign policy has been a factor in growing Islamic disaffection are shutting their eyes to unpalatable facts.

Islamic leaders who call for Muslims in Britain to be allowed to apply Shariah law in family matters apparently believe that their religious rules should prevail rather than the laws of the land in which they have been born or to which they or their families came to seek a better life. The British preference for a multicultural society instead of integration has led to mistaken policies of positive discrimination in favor of ethnic and religious communities in the name of political correctness. Concessions to Islamic pressures have been allowed to erode the principles of tolerance and equality.

Unfortunately politicians in Japan and China are just as capable as those in the West of behaving like the White Queen and believing impossible things. Prime Minister Koizumi declares that in visiting the Yasukuni shrine Aug. 15 he is praying for peace and disavowing Japan’s militarist past. This is unbelievable when Yasukuni enshrines the souls of convicted Japanese war leaders and houses the Yushukan museum, which glorifies Japanese military exploits. Chinese leaders are just as hypocritical. They declare that they are peace-loving while increasing their military power. They criticize Japanese histories that they say gloss over the Japanese record in China before and during the war. They shut their eyes to the way in which human-rights abuses continue in China, where Mao Zedong is still revered despite the fact that he was a monster whose behavior was at least as bad if not worse than that of Soviet leader Josef Stalin and German leader Adolf Hitler.

The birds in Aristophanes’ eponymous comedy of 414 B.C. decided to call their country “cloud-cuckoo-land.” Our leaders often behave as if they live in such a land where no doubt the White Queen would feel at home.

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