The premise of the speech, and of the strategy, is that there is a national democratic government in Baghdad, defending itself against Jihadist attacks. The task, in the president's mind, is therefore to send more troops to defend such a government. But the reality facing us each day is a starkly different one from the scenario assumed by the president. The government of which Bush speaks, to put it bluntly, does not exist. The reality illumined by the lynching of Saddam is that the Maliki government is a front for Shiite factions and dependent for its future on Shiite death squads. U.S. support for the government is not, therefore, a defense of democracy in a unified country, whatever our intentions. It is putting the lives of American soldiers in defense of the Shiite side in an increasingly brutal civil war.

What we will discover in the next few months, therefore, is simply whether the entire premise of this strategy is actually true. The president is asking us to find this out one more time. He seems to disbelieve the overwhelming evidence on the ground - that the dynamic has changed beyond recognition. His intellectual rubric - democracy versus terror - has not changed to deal with fast-changing events, or to take account of the sectarian dynamic that his appallingly managed occupation has spawned. And so his strategy is no surprise. It would have made sense in 2004, when so many of us were begging for more troops, only to be dismissed as fair-weather warriors, terror-supporters, or lily-livered wimps. We were right. This president was disastrously wrong - and clung to his disproved strategy in the face of overwhelming evidence, supported by the Republican right regardless, until it simply became impossible to sustain the lie any longer.

If the president tonight had outlined a serious attempt to grapple with this new situation - a minimum of 50,000 new troops as a game-changer - then I'd eagerly be supporting him. But he hasn't. 21,500 U.S. troops is once again, I fear, just enough troops to lose. The only leverage this president really has left is the looming regional war that withdrawal would bring. Yes, if we leave, the civil war will take off. And if we stay, with this level of troops, the civil war will also take off. One way, we get enmeshed in the brutal civil war in the region. One way, we get to face them another day, and perhaps benefit by setting them against each other, and destabilizing Iran. That's the awful choice this president has brought us to. Under these circumstances, I favor withdrawal, while of course, hoping that a miracle could take place. But make no mistake: a miracle is what this president needs. And a miracle is what we will now have to pray for.

He will do what he wants, of course. Even if the bulk of his own party balks, along with the Democrats. Even if the casualties mount, and the civil war intensifies. Even if failure becomes more and more entrenched. The logic of his speech is that we can never let go of this disaster, that it is our fate for the rest of our lives, and that his job is merely to pass it on - deadlier than ever - to whichever unlucky sap gets to inherit his office.

To back this anemic reponse to the escalating civil war requires us to abandon our empirical sense and the lessons of the past four years. To back it requires us to trust this president as a competent, deft and determined leader. Do you? Can you? At this point? After all we have seen?