The Roman historian Tacitus famously put the following lines in the mouth of a British chieftain opposed to imperial Rome: "They have plundered the world, stripping naked the land in their hunger… they are driven by greed, if their enemy be rich; by ambition, if poor… They ravage, they slaughter, they seize by false pretenses, and all of this they hail as the construction of empire. And when in their wake nothing remains but a desert, they call that peace."

Or, in the case of the Bush administration, post-surge "success." Today, however, success in Iraq seems as elusive as ever for the President. The Iraqi cabinet is now refusing, without further amendment, to pass on to Parliament the status of forces agreement for stationing U.S. troops in the country that it’s taken so many months for American and Iraqi negotiators to sort out. Key objections, as Juan Cole points out at his Informed Comment blog, have come from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which is [Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki’s chief political partner, the support of which he would need to get the draft through parliament." That party, Cole adds tellingly, "is close to Tehran, which objects to the agreement." The Iranian veto? Hmmm…

Among Iraqis, according to the Dreyfuss Report, only the Kurds, whose territories house no significant U.S. forces, remain unequivocally in favor of the agreement as written. Frustrated American officials, including Ambassador Ryan Crocker ("Without legal authority to operate, we do not operate… That means no security operations, no logistics, no training, no support for Iraqis on the borders, no nothing…"), Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ("Without a new legal agreement,’we basically stop doing anything’ in the country…"), and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen ("We are clearly running out of time…") are huffing and puffing, and threatening — if the agreement is not passed as is — to blow the house down.

Without a mandate to remain, American troops won’t leave, of course. At year’s end, they will, so American officials insist, simply retreat to their bases and assumedly leave Maliki’s government to dangle in the expected gale. Clearly, this is a game of chicken. What’s less clear is who’s willing to go over the cliff, or who exactly is going to put on the brakes.

In the meantime, the administration that, only four years ago, imposed conditions on Iraq at least as onerous as those nineteenth century colonial powers imposed on their colonies, can no longer get an agreement it desperately needs from its "allies" in Baghdad. Could this, then, be the $700 billion kiss-off? Stay tuned and, in the meantime, consider what the Bush administration did to Iraq these last five years. Imagine it as a preview of the devastation the administration’s domestic version of de-Baathification is now doing to the U.S. economy.

Michael Schwartz has just written a striking overview of "wrecked Iraq" that encapsulates a story he’s been following closely for years: the everyday economic violence that invasion and occupation brought to Iraq.

In a magisterial survey, he explains just how the U.S. invasion and occupation turned the Iraqi economy into rubble and what that means for the country today. He surveys the dismantling of the economy, the loss of key technical and managerial personnel, the collapse of the electrical grid, the disaster of American-style "reconstruction," the polluting of the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (due largely to destroyed sewage systems) and what this has meant for health and farming, and the way all of this has impacted the educational system, leading to a "dysfunctional society."

The piece has been posted at TomDispatch.com in honor of his just-released book, War Without End: The Iraq War in Context. Think of this superb new work on the American war in Iraq as Tacitus updated. In both the TomDispatch post and the book, Schwartz offers a gripping history — the best we have — of how (to steal a phrase from the Roman historian), "driven by greed… [and] ambition," the U.S. dismantled Iraq economically. It’s a nightmare of a tale. If this be "success," then we truly are wandering in the desert.