Remember that flurry of speculation last spring about the possibility that the Bush administration would begin drawing down the number of U.S. troops in Iraq as early as this fall? Well, that was before the death toll of Iraqi civilians climbed to more than 100 a day in May and June, and that was before a significant increase in bombings and shootings got started in early July, and that was before Israel's war against the Shiite militant group Hezbollah got under way in Lebanon two weeks ago. There's no more talk of an American pullback - but there should be.
Instead, President Bush said yesterday that he was sending more U.S. troops into Baghdad in an effort to put some teeth into Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ineffective security crackdown. This will put more American soldiers in a position to stir more resentment against the United States, at a time when revelations of U.S. crimes against Iraqis and the outbreak of fighting in Lebanon have already provoked considerable new hostility.
Is Washington incapable of recognizing that the Israeli-Hezbollah war has serious ramifications for Iraq? Some members of Congress say they may boycott Mr. al-Maliki's appearance on Capitol Hill today because he has called for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon; this is a truly brainless gesture.
It's true that Sunni Arabs in Iraq are less than thrilled with Hezbollah, and seriously concerned about Shiite Iran (Hezbollah's ultimate sponsor) gaining even more influence in Iraq than it has today. Some Sunni Arab politicians are now calling on the United States to stay put - but other Sunni Arabs are still busily killing their Shiite countrymen and taking the lives of about two U.S. soldiers every day. Shiite militias are exacting revenge, and expanding. The United States failed to establish order or win the affection of any group in Iraq (with the exception of the Kurds); it's too late to try now, especially when the U.S. is so closely identified in Arab minds with Israel, which is bringing so much destruction down on Lebanon.
What's discouraging about Iraq is that any course Washington might pursue will be followed by more death and destruction. Clearly, the current policy isn't working at all, and kicking down more doors in Baghdad is not likely to change that. American blunders in Iraq changed the dynamics in the Middle East and helped to beget Hezbollah's rocket attacks in Israel, however indirectly. Now the war in Lebanon will beget new furies in Iraq. The first thing the administration should do is recognize just what a hazardous moment this is for America in the region. With that, it should then be able to recognize that striking a lower profile in Iraq, not a higher one, is the only sane course.