LOSING THE WAR….Could the news out of Iraq be any more discouraging than it is? Muqtada al-Sadr says he won’t back down and won’t dissolve his militia. “We shall never permit these forces to enter this city of Najaf or the holy sites, for they are forbidden to them,” he railed in a sermon on Friday.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a supposed moderate, is supporting Muqtada, and Ahmed Chalabi, the Pentagon’s favorite exile, is supporting Sistani. “Najaf must not be touched,” he says.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has tacitly admitted its powerlessness by relying on UN negotiator Lakhdar Brahimi to come up with a political solution. “I don’t see anything at this point in what he’s proposing that would be of concern to us,” Condi Rice said blandly, despite the fact that Brahimi’s solution bears no resemblance to anything we’ve proposed before.

Of course, we have little choice in all this. Despite what the Rumsfeld/Cheney/Wolfowitz axis credulously maintained a year ago, there are an awful lot of Iraqis who don’t want us there and we have neither the manpower nor the stomach to fight them all off. The RCW axis has never had the guts to make realistic proposals for winning the war they started, and even now, when the reality on the ground has been painfully clear for months, Rumsfeld is still not willing to consider increasing troop strength. In fact, he’s only grudgingly agreed to postpone a planned troop reduction, and even that, apparently, was little more than a concession to fight off a near mutiny in the ranks of the generals.

The most likely endpoint is this: in the short term a UN-brokered political settlement, and in the longer term an Islamic theocracy headed in the background by Sistani, with Chalabi pulling strings at his side and Muqtada (or his clones) keeping anti-American sentiment burning in the foreground. Chalabi will sell us out in a second if he needs to, Sistani will gradually lose influence, and before long Iraq will probably bear more resemblance to Iran than to Egypt. Or perhaps the West Bank if American troops remain.

And the United States will end up in a worse position than when we started, our foreign policy in hock to the UN and a group of Islamic theocrats.

Maybe that would have happened no matter what. I don’t know. But there’s not much question that in this universe we ended up where we did because George Bush wasn’t willing to take the political risks needed to win this war. And he still isn’t.

So I’ll end this post with my usual question to the hawks: why are you supporting this guy? Sure, he talks a good game, but in the real world he’s betrayed everything you wanted out of simple political cowardice. Why does he retain your loyalty when he’s made it so plain that he has neither a realistic plan to win the war nor the political will to see it through?

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