02/02/2007 11:22 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Caught Between a Surge and a Hard Place

Only the President has the power to set the agenda for a national public debate, a fact that's often pointed out. Since he announced a surge in troops for Iraq, Bush has met such widespread opposition that he gave up much of that power. The debate has shifted to his opponents, both Democratic and Republican, who are vying to see who can point fingers hardest and scold loudest.

For the most part this seems like a political masquerade. If, as so many assert, the current surge is futile, if Bush has relinquished any real leadership, what are we to do? Radically shifting Iraq policy seems to be the last topic anyone wants to agree upon. The relevant facts are too hard:

--The Shiites are going to rule Iraq, silently controlled by religious leaders. This is how Iran is run, and Iraq shows no signs of being any different.
--The Sunnis will continue to pay in blood for the Baathists brutal repression of the Shia majority.
--The moderate wing in Iraqi politics, which must exist somewhere, has been rendered helpless by violence and chaos all around.
--The psychological mood in Iraq has reached the point of irrationality. No one wants peace enough to stop killing their tribal enemies and squaring old grudges. Even the promise of vast oil wealth offers no incentive to form a national coalition. The factions would rather perish in hatred than live in prosperity.

In the face of these intractable realities, a surge in American troops is beside the point, be it a failure or a success (however feebly one defines the latter term). Patriotic hand-wringing over American fatalities is also largely beside the point. This country paid a price in lives for a huge moral wrong: destroying Iraqi society, releasing age-old demons, and killing civilians on a scale that could be 100 times greater than the losses we have suffered.

Yet the war's dissenters keep harping on irrelevancies. Body armor and the lack thereof; wasted money and painful slowness in reconstruction; lost and unaccounted for weapons. Today a special investigator reported that wasted U.S. funds amounted to over $350 million. In a war that costs billions dollars a month, with rising danger of a conflagration spreading throughout the region, talking about such losses is a bit like arguing over whether the Titanic went over budget.

Caught between a surge and a hard place, Washington's political leaders on both sides of the aisle feel paralyzed. They prefer squabbling and self-righteous blame to the incredibly hard job of solving this catastrophic mess. If they can't think of a solution, then simply cutting our losses and leaving the scene may be the only answer. A deeper catastrophe will result, no doubt, but as long as we keep stirring a boiling pot, deeper catastrophe is just as surely guaranteed.