THE CENTER CANNOT HOLD….First David Broder, now Tom Friedman? Since I don’t subscribe to TimesSelect and couldn’t read his full column today, I was skeptical of blog reports that Friedman had finally decided that we need to withdraw from Iraq. But curiosity got the better of me and I checked out his column on Nexis. Sure enough, he thinks it’s time to leave:

When our top commander in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid, tells a Senate Committee, as he did yesterday, that ”the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it,” it means that three years of efforts to democratize Iraq are not working. That means ”staying the course” is pointless, and it’s time to start thinking about Plan B ? how we might disengage with the least damage possible.

….The administration now has to admit what anyone ? including myself ? who believed in the importance of getting Iraq right has to admit: Whether for Bush reasons or Arab reasons, it is not happening, and we can’t throw more good lives after good lives.

…. Yes, the best way to contain Iran would have been to produce a real Shiite-led democracy in Iraq, exposing the phony one in Tehran. But second best is leaving Iraq. Because the worst option ? the one Iran loves ? is for us to stay in Iraq, bleeding, and in easy range to be hit by Iran if we strike its nukes.

Friedman does hedge a bit by saying that we first need to try a gigantic “last-ditch” peace conference, but adds that there’s no way such a conference can happen unless we first declare our firm intention to leave. So, really, there’s not too much weaseling here. He’s reluctant about it, but he’s definitely changed his tune. He wants out.

Maybe I’m just a wild optimist about these things, but I think Broder and Friedman are bellwethers. They’re both cautious, centrist, establishment liberals who have long hoped for success in Iraq, and they’ve both given up. Put them together with guys like George Will and Chuck Hagel on the right, and there’s just not much support left for staying in Iraq outside of the neocon crazies and the rabid partisans. The wind is definitely shifting.

And as long as I’m being a wild optimist: if we finally develop a consensus that invading random Arab countries doesn’t work so well at putting an end to support for radical jihadism, maybe we can start seriously thinking about what would work. Considering how phenomenally difficult the problem is, the sooner we put Iraq behind us and get our brightest minds thinking seriously about nonmilitary solutions, the better off we’ll be.

UPDATE: Billmon, on the other hand, is depressed:

I think we’ve run out of time. Events ? from 9/11 on ? have moved too fast and pushed us too far towards the clash of civilizations that most sane people dread but the neocons desperately want. The Dems are now just the cadet branch of the War Party. While the party nomenklatura is finally, after three bloody years, making dovish noises about the Iraq fiasco, I think their loyalty to Israel will almost certainly snap them back into line during the coming “debate” over war with Iran.

Read the whole thing to see what he’s talking about, but I think there’s a broad point here that’s certainly correct: It’s one thing to finally realize that the Iraq war was a mistake, but does that mean these guys are going to oppose the next Middle East adventure once the agitprop starts flowing? Good question.