There's a scene in Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" where Huck applies his Missouri-bred horse sense to the outlandish claims of two con-men boasting of their royal lineage and knowledge of the world:
"It didn't take me long to make up my mind that these liars warn't no kings nor dukes at all, but just low-down humbugs and frauds," Huck said.
Though the web of lies spun by the con-men were obvious to him, Huck decided there wasn't much point in disabusing his companion, the runaway slave Jim, from believing their hokum.
But Jim caught on to the staggering level of their duplicity within days and revealed to Huck his skepticism about everything the men had ever told them.
In his memorable back country dialect, Jim articulated what should have been the sentiment of most Americans in the run-up to the Iraq war:
"But, Huck, dese kings o' ourn is reglar rapscallions; dat's jist what dey is; dey's reglar rapscallions."
These days, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is probably feeling a vague sense of kinship with Huck and Jim.
Her growing appreciation of the "rapscallion factor" of the Bush administration's ostensible allies, the neoconservatives, comes just as these discredited chicken hawks conspire to blame her for the recent series of escalating fiascoes.
"Dump Condi: Foreign policy conservatives charge State Dept. has hijacked Bush agenda" screamed a headline at Insightmag.com, the web publication of the ultra-conservative Washington Times earlier this week.
The second paragraph alone contains enough hypocrisy to raise the ghost of Mark Twain for another go at it:
"The conservatives, who include Newt Gingrich, Richard Perle and leading current and former members of the Pentagon and National Security Council, have urged the president to transfer Miss Rice out of the State Department and to an advisory role. They said Miss Rice, stemming from her lack of understanding of the Middle East, has misled the president on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict." (Italics mine).
Granted, Condi Rice is the wrong person for the job, but being ripped as "incompetent" by the likes of Gingrich, Perle and Elliot Abrams is akin to the Riddler, the Joker and the Penguin blaming the Catwoman for the sudden spike in crime in Gotham City.
At the very least, it reveals a stunning lack of reflection by neoconservatives on their legacy as spiritual and intellectual authors of most of Bush's failed foreign policy initiatives.
It isn't as if Condi Rice was doing her nails one day when she came up with the idea of imposing "friendly democracies" in the heart of the Arab world beginning with Iraq and Afghanistan. That honor belongs to the men now calling for her removal.
As an act of pure gall, the various hoots for Condi's well-coiffed scalp reveal the sleaziness of fair weather supporters who, just a few months ago, were extolling her virtues as a possible GOP standard bearer in 2008.
Did Condi suspect a backlash was already in the works by her party's neo-con hatchet men when she made it clear to anyone who truly listened that she wasn't interested in running against Hillary?
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell knew exactly what he was doing when he got out of that snake pit at the beginning of Bush's second term.
Unlike Powell who regrets being a patsy for the invasion of Iraq, Condi doesn't seem to mind playing her role as Bush's designated grifter in foreign affairs, though flashes of conscience are often visible on her scowling, but always photogenic face.
When one of the most prominent propaganda organs of conservative opinion in the country publishes a story that implies she's barely competent to wash windows at State, much less run it, Condi Rice is probably weeks away from agreeing to teach "Introduction to Russian Politics" at Stanford.
As the chorus of "it's all Condi's fault" gains resonance in the media's right-wing echo chambers, there are undeniable signs that she is close to her limit.
The photo of Condi Rice on the cover of yesterday's New York Times, her eyes downcast with her left hand patting her forehead like Job, said it all. You can almost see Twain's words from "Huck Finn" in a word balloon above her head:
"It gave [her] the stomach-ache in [her] very heart of hearts to think there could be such frauds and rascals in the world."
Tony Norman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631.