Once a war goes badly wrong and its justifications are shown to be lies, to insist that a "democratic" Iraq is visible on the horizon and that "we must stay the course" becomes a total fantasy. What is to be done?
In the US a group of Foggy Bottom elders was wheeled in to prepare a report. This admitted what the whole world (Downing Street excepted) already knew: the occupation is a disaster and the situation gets more hellish every day. After US citizens voted accordingly in the mid-term elections, the White House sacrificed the Pentagon warlord, Donald Rumsfeld.
The warlord of Downing Street, however, is still at large, zombie-like in his denials that anything serious is wrong in Baghdad or Kabul. Everything, for him, can still be remedied by a dose of humanitarian medicine (a poison so powerful and audacious that no resistance is possible). His desperate attempts to play the statesman have made him a laughing stock in friendly Arab capitals and Baghdad's Green Zone. Iraq is the umbilical cord that ties him to his fate.
Meanwhile the old men in Washington recognise the scale of the disaster. Their descriptions are strong, their prescriptions weak and pathetic: "We agree with the goal of US policy in Iraq, as stated by the president: an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself." Elsewhere they recommend a deal with Tehran and Damascus to preserve post-withdrawal stability, implying that Baghdad can never be independent again. It was left to a military realist, Lieutenant-General William Odom, to demand a complete withdrawal in the next few months, a view backed by Iraqis (Shia and Sunni) in successive polls. The occupation, Kofi Annan informs us, has created a much worse situation than under Saddam.
How different it was in the heady days that followed the capture of Baghdad. Two lines of argument emerged in the victorious camp. The Pentagon wanted a quick deal with Saddam's generals to establish a new regime so that US and subsidiary troops could withdraw to bases in northern Iraq and Kuwait to police the outcome. The state department and its Downing Street auxiliary wanted the ruthless application of "hard power" and a long occupation to establish a new Iraq as a model of US "soft power" for the entire region.
This was never a serious option. It is the unconditional US support for Israel that precludes any possibility of soft power in Iraq or elsewhere. Using Fatah to promote civil conflict in Palestine is unlikely to improve matters. Even the most pro-US Arab regimes in the region - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states, which do Washington's bidding - permit virulent denunciations of western policies in the media to keep their own citizens at bay.
None of the scenarios being canvassed in Washington, including by the Democrats, envisage a total US withdrawal. That is a defeat too unbearable to contemplate, but the war has already been lost, together with half a million Iraqi lives. Trying to delay the defeat (as in Vietnam) by sending in a "surge" of troops is unlikely to work.
The British parliament, even more supine than its US equivalent, voted against any official inquiry (not even a Hutton) on British involvement in the war, when they knew that a majority in the country was opposed to a continuation of this conflict. Blair's ideological zealotry has helped destroy Iraq, revive the Taliban in Afghanistan, increase the threat of terror in Britain and introduce repressive laws that were not enforced even in the second world war. His own wretched party and the opposition have acquiesced in these repellent measures. Time for a regime change at home.
Tariq Ali's new book, Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, is published by Verso.