BLOODBATH IN IRAQ….In the LA Times today, A. Yasmine Rassam writes that Iran is out to dominate the Middle East:

It makes sense, therefore, that the first line of defense against Iran’s ambitions is a stable, democratic Iraq, which would provide a formidable counterbalance to Iran. A pro-Western Iraq that develops its economic ties throughout the Middle East and beyond would compete over growing markets for oil with Iranian economic interests. More important, a democratic Iraq would be a long-sought beacon for the oppressed Shiites of the world, an alternative to the appeal of extremist Iran.

That would be great! That is, it would be great if this outcome were actually possible given the policies being pursued by the George Bush administration. But with the possible exception of Norman Podhoretz (and James Inhofe!), even the hawkiest of the hawks aren’t pretending any longer that we can keep order in Iraq, let alone make it into a beacon for oppressed Shiites, with the troops we have there now. The hawks also concede that no one is planning to send more troops there, and that we don’t really have more troops available even if someone were inclined to send them. The only step the hawks don’t take is to draw the obvious conclusion from these two observations.

Still, it’s a wrenching situation. Last year I began arguing that we should start a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq because it seemed like the best of a bad set of options. The elections gave us a reasonable pretext, and it seemed at least plausible that our continued presence was helping to fuel the insurgency while also providing the fledgling government with an excuse for failing to take responsibility for security itself. Conversely, our continuing presence would do little to stop the violence and would make it ever plainer to the world that our strained military was unable to cope with a determined guerrilla insurgency. Pulling out certainly didn’t guarantee any kind of good outcome in Iraq, but it seemed like Iraq’s best chance.

Was that right? There’s no telling, because there’s no way of knowing what would have happened if we had begun pulling out troops back then. But the decision is even starker today. On the one hand, the argument for withdrawing is stronger than ever because it’s even clearer than it was last year that our troops are simply unable to cope with the emerging civil war in Iraq. On the other hand, a year ago it was at least possible that a withdrawal might help cool things down. Nobody thinks that today: a pullout now would almost certainly unleash an unbelievable bloodbath in Baghdad and beyond. This virtual certainty of slaughter is a painful reality, and it makes it harder than ever to continue counseling withdrawal.

So the choice has gotten harder and the consequences worse. Unfortunately, as bad as they are now, they’re likely to be even worse a year from now. No matter what we do, Iraq is not going to be a beacon for anything for a very, very long time.