THE deadline is not far off for the promised military assessment on the effect of President Bush's 28,500-troop surge in Iraq.
With a month or so to go, it is difficult to imagine how the military and political situation there could change appreciably to justify a continuation of the war.
Much importance has been attached to the skills and integrity of on-the-ground commander, Gen. David Petraeus. At the same time, it is important to remember that he was named and can be replaced by Mr. Bush, a potential constraint on the candor of the report the general will render.
The long and short of it is that, no matter what General Petraeus' assessment is next month, the United States has essentially destroyed Iraq as a country. The death knell of the occupation government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was probably sounded last week by the withdrawal of six cabinet ministers from the most important Sunni party. The government now includes only two representatives of the Sunnis, whose adherence to a unified Iraq is critical given their twofold importance for having ruled the country for the 71 years preceding the U.S. invasion and accounting for 20 percent of the population.
Iraq cannot be ruled successfully by a Shiite government; the Kurds are still in, but eyeing an increasingly independent Kurdistan. So, basically, no government.
Promised U.S. reconstruction efforts, estimated to have cost American taxpayers $40 billion so far, have turned into a trail of disappointments and broken promises. U.S. contractors and a host of U.S., Kuwaiti, Iraqi, and other subcontractors have reaped fortunes from the effort. Inspection reports spread the blame for construction failures - aside from the Iraqis themselves - among the companies, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the U.S. military.
Perhaps worst of all, apart from the thousands of Iraqi deaths (many of them unrecorded), the situation of the people is dire in humanitarian terms.
Oxfam and other relief organizations estimated in a report this week that one in seven Iraqis is in need of food aid. Children in particular are hard-hit by widespread problems of public health, poverty, and hunger.
It is also a sorry comment on what the United States has done to Iraq that some observers now see a breakup of the country as the only possible political solution to the chaos that reigns there. America will have, in effect, destroyed a 75-year-old country.
As the surge report draws near, it is also important not to be distracted by White House efforts to blame what the United States has done to Iraq on others. There have been far too many attempts to pin the blame on Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other foreign players.
The widespread destruction there is because of a U.S. mission that was ill-conceived, ill-advised, and badly executed. There is no reason to suggest otherwise.
The only action left, assuming that the people of the United States do not want to take on Iraq as a project for the next 20 or 30 years, is to state categorically that we have done all that we are going to do there and leave.