BUSH AND THE MIDDLE EAST….News on the foreign policy front has been pretty discouraging for the past couple of days. Tony Blair has, yet again, begged George Bush to make a serious effort to broker an Israel-Palestine deal, but Bush, despite plenty of opportunity to say something soothing on the subject, has remained stonily silent. In a meeting with Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, the conversation was apparently dominated primarily by more tough talk about Iran. Any other topics discussed, reporters asked? Everything from the American elections to the Israeli economy, said Olmert’s flack ? with one pretty obvious topic missing from that “everything.”

On the Iraq front, everyone is playing a kabuki dance waiting for the Baker Commission report. What will they recommend? The betting favorite is talks with Syria and Iran, which is a fine idea with one wee drawback: talks would likely have almost no effect on the violence in Iraq even if they were successful. Iran may be causing trouble in Iraq, but at this point the vast bulk of Iraq’s trouble is homegrown. Iran could help in only a limited way even if it wanted to.

The other crowd-pleaser getting airtime these days is “One Last Push,” the idea that we can surge in another 20,000 troops or so and end the Iraqi violence once and for all. John McCain is one of many running this idea up the flagpole, but it’s a suggestion so puerile and reckless it boggles the mind. It’s unlikely that 20,000 troops would have made a difference three years ago, let alone now, and he knows it.

But still we wait, even though everyone knows perfectly well that Baker’s team won’t come up with any magic solution. Unfortunately, even some liberals play along with this game because they have their own bit of truth they’d just as soon avoid: namely that conservatives are correct when they say that a U.S. pullout would be a disaster for Iraq. War supporters may have only themselves to blame for this state of affairs, but that doesn’t make them any less right: A pullout now would almost certainly touch off a full-scale civil war, the deaths of hundreds of thousands, and the eventual establishment of a Shiite theocracy. It’s hardly surprising that no one wants to face up to this, but the fact remains that our continued denial only makes the situation worse with every passing day, virtually guaranteeing a higher body count and an even more brutal end game.

But perhaps the tide is turning. Even with the election over, top Democrats like Joe Biden and Carl Levin are continuing to push for a firm commitment to begin withdrawing troops. Harry Reid said on Sunday that withdrawals “should start within the next few months.” That’s a promising sign, and I hope they’re serious. It would be nice to see some moral leadership for a change.

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