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I don't know the backstory for Philip Zelikow's departure from the State Department but it seems to me that those of us who assumed that the election and the demise of Rumsfeld meant a change of course for the Bush administration may be fooling ourselves. Mike Allen's report on Bush's tude is here. The president today seemed to argue that the violence in Iraq is caused by al Qaeda. He's right that this sectarian warfare was part of al Qaeda's strategy - but it now has a life of its own. It's troubling he seems unaware of this, or under the impression that Maliki is part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Maybe he is still in denial. And maybe it's that realization that has prompted Zelikow to throw in the towel.

So there's a good chance there will be no change in strategy, merely more grind against the insurgents, and a slow breaking of the U.S. military. Iran's involvement with the Shia militias in Iraq via Hezbollah is grist for Cheney; so is Syria's acquiescence. And Cheney's suspicions of dealing with Iran and Syria aren't nuts. It's just that we have very few options left. Our leverage over Maliki is weak, and he is beholden to Sadr. We cannot get involved in a civil war; but could we morally abandon Iraqis to systematic secticide and ethnic cleansing, and watch from Kurdistan as the country tears itself apart? Here's what I do know: There is no guarantee that Bush will not pursue a failed strategy until it fails some more. He's done it for three years already, and he doesn't have to face another election. Reality has been too hard for him to grapple with for the past five years. Why are we naive enough to believe he can change now?

(Photo: Brooks Kraft/Corbis.)

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