It was wrenching to listen to President Bush's news conference the other day. He's struggling to do the right thing. But he's getting terrible advice.
He's still counting on a political solution in Iraq. Ain't going to happen. And you can take that to the blood bank.
Our famously loyal president has one grave flaw: He's a poor judge of character. He trusts the wrong people. Then he sticks by them.
Bush met Russia's Vladimir Putin, "looked into his soul" - and failed to recognize that the guy is an unreformed secret policeman. He stubbornly defends Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the Pentagon's architect of failure. Now he's standing up for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki - a man who has decided to back our enemies.
I lost faith in our engagement in Iraq last week. I can pinpoint the moment. It came when I heard that Maliki had demanded - successfully - that our military release a just-captured deputy of Muqtada al-Sadr who was running death squads.
As a former intelligence officer, that told me two things: First, Iraq's prime minister is betting on Muqtada to prevail, not us. Second, Muqtada, not the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is now the most powerful man in Iraq.
At his news conference, Bush was asked about another statement made by Maliki just hours before. Our troops had conducted a raid in Sadr City, Muqtada's Baghdad stronghold. The Iraqi PM quickly declared that "this will not happen again." He was signaling his allegiance to Muqtada. Publicly.
Oh, Maliki realizes his government wouldn't last a week if our troops withdrew. He doesn't want us to leave yet. But he's looking ahead.
For now, Maliki and his pals are using our troops to buy time while they pocket our money, amass power and build up arms. But they've written us off for the long term.
Does that mean we should leave?
Not yet. Iraq deserves one last chance. But to make that chance even remotely viable, we'll have to take desperate measures. We need to fight. And accept the consequences.
The first thing we need to do is to kill Muqtada al-Sadr, who's now a greater threat to our strategic goals than Osama bin Laden.
We should've killed him in 2003, when he first embarked upon his murder campaign. But our leaders were afraid of provoking riots.
Back then, the tumult might've lasted a week. Now we'll face a serious uprising. So be it. When you put off paying war's price, you pay compound interest in blood.
We must kill - not capture - Muqtada, then kill every gunman who comes out in the streets to avenge him.
Our policy of all-carrots-no-sticks has failed miserably. We delivered Iraq to zealots, gangsters and terrorists. Now our only hope is to prove that we mean business - that the era of peace, love and wasting American lives is over.
And after we've killed Muqtada and destroyed his Mahdi Army, we need to go after the Sunni insurgents. If we can't leave a democracy behind, we should at least leave the corpses of our enemies.
The holier-than-thou response to this proposal is predictable: "We can't kill our way out of this situation!" Well, boo-hoo. Friendly persuasion and billions of dollars haven't done the job. Give therapeutic violence a chance.
Our soldiers and Marines are dying to protect a government whose members are scrambling to ally themselves with sectarian militias and insurgent factions. President Bush needs to face reality. The Maliki government is a failure.
There's still a chance, if a slight one, that we can achieve a few of our goals in Iraq - if we let our troops make war, not love. But if our own leaders are unwilling to fight, it's time to leave and let Iraqis fight each other.
Our president owes Iraq's treacherous prime minister nothing. Get tough, or get out.
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