“IRRETRIEVABLY WORSE”….If things are improving so nicely in Iraq, why not continue with a prudent, judicious withdrawal of U.S. forces? Joe Klein takes a stab at answering:

Because, it seems, the Bush Administration has other fish to fry. The first is Muqtada al-Sadr, whose movement features a defiant nationalism that is traditionally both anti-American and anti-Persian (although Sadrist elements have been willing to accept help from the Iranians in recent years). Under questioning from Hillary Clinton about the Maliki government’s recent abortive offensive against Sadr’s forces in Basra, Petraeus admitted that U.S. troops would have provided resources and “different actions” for a more carefully planned attack. An intelligence source told me that the operation had been planned for June.

That would have been extremely foolish. The U.S. would have been inserting itself into a part of Iraq that we don’t know very well — the south — and taking sides against what is probably the most popular mass movement in Shi’ite Iraq. But the Petraeus battle plan apparently includes an anti-Sadrist move, which may mean a spurt of violence as widespread and vicious as the worst of the Sunni insurgency. Is that why the general wants a “pause” in the U.S. withdrawal this summer?

What could possibly be the rationale for this? Perhaps it is that Sadr’s Mahdi Army is the most potent force opposed to long-term U.S. bases in Iraq — and that a permanent presence has been the Bush Administration’s true goal in this war. I suspect the central question in Iraq now is not whether things will get better but whether the drive for a long-term, neocolonialist presence will make the situation irretrievably worse.

I’d say we’re pretty close to “irretrievably worse” already, but perhaps not completely there yet. Another year or two, though, and we will be.