Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol walked into the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) yesterday with a big grin on his face, as if to say “they’re listening to me again!”

Wolfowitz, Feith, Rumsfeld, Bolton and other architects of the war in Iraq may be gone, but the neoconservatives’ stature inside the Bush Administration has hardly diminished. The same people that sold us the war, often under false pretenses, are now leading proponents of escalating the conflict by sending tens of thousands of additional troops.

An event at AEI yesteday brought together the intellectual progenitors of escalation: military historian Fred Kagan, retired General Jack Keane and Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman. The focus was not on how to clean up the neocons mess, but on how to deepen it.

“The surge must be substantial and it must be sustained,” McCain told a packed room. That means keeping an additional 20,000 to 35,000 troops in Iraq for 18 to 24 months. Under such a plan, 160,000 plus troops could be deployed well past 2008 at an untold cost.

Over 300 protestors convened by MoveOn.org gathered outside AEI to protest such a scenario. “John McCain, John McCain, escalation is insane!” they chanted. Around the same time, Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid sent a letter to President Bush expressing their opposition to any troop increase.

“After nearly four years of combat, tens of thousands of US casualties, and over $300 billion dollars, it is time to bring the war to a close,” they wrote to Bush. “We, therefore, strongly encourage you to reject any plans that call for our getting our troops any deeper into Iraq.”

But Lieberman, the self-described “Independent Democrat,” was having none of that. “The battlefield is in Baghdad and Al-Anbar, not in Washington,” Lieberman said. “We need to support the President as he goes forward.”

Who needs to support the President? Only 12 percent of Americans want to escalate the war. Most now want the US to get out. Nothing they’ve heard from the neocons since the beginning of the war has turned out to be right.

“I believed the initial invasion was going to be easy,” McCain admitted today, echoing statements he made before the war. “Most of us did. I believed we were going to be welcomed as liberators. We were.”

Little wonder why McCain and his fellow neocons can’t bear the thought of ending the war they helped start.