So far, what have the American invasion and occupation of Iraq led to — other than a staggering bloodbath, killing fields galore, and a secret landscape of detention centers and torture chambers? As a start, an already badly battered Iraqi economy was turned into a looting ground for Bush administration crony corporations and thoroughly wrecked. (Tall Afar, for instance, is considered an American “success” story when it comes to security, though part of the city is now a “ghost town” of rubble and unemployment there is estimated at almost 70%.) The Iraqi education system is in tatters; the medical system in ruins; basic social and urban services almost undeliverable; oil production barely up to pathetic prewar levels (if present-day figures are even real, which is in doubt); the position of women now disastrous; child malnutrition on the rise; and well over a million Iraqis have fled their homes in a country of only 26 million people.

In addition, national sovereignty has been destroyed; the national police system is on its last legs, its ranks well-stocked with men loyal to various murderous Shiite militias; a Sunni insurgency rages ever more violently; a Kurdish form of independence seems ever more likely (though inconceivable to neighboring states); corruption is rampant; and a central government, whose sway doesn’t reach most streets in its capital, is now considered “the least accountable and least transparent regime in the Middle East.” (The Interior Ministry alone “reportedly employs at least a thousand ghost employees, whose wages amount to more than $1 million a month.”)

Throw in the fact that the Iraqi Army the Bush administration has been so intent on “standing up” is largely a Shiite one (as the fine Knight-Ridder reporter Tom Lasseter discovered back in October 2005 and New York Times correspondent Richard A. Oppel found only last week in Diyala Province, north of Baghdad). So if the plan is to bulk it up further to create a modicum of “stability” before departure, forget it. By its nature, such a training program, even if successful, is but a plan to generate an even more murderous civil war.

Now, add in endless months or years of non-withdrawal withdrawal plans, which may even for a time involve significantly upping American troop levels, already reportedly at 152,000, keep in mind the likelihood that American air power will be ratcheted up when American troop strength finally starts to go down, don’t forget those media-ignored permanent bases the Bush administration has no desire to give up, and you have a formula for further carnage, collapses and disintegrations of every sort, coups, assassinations, civil war, and god knows what else.

In the Vietnam era, President Richard M. Nixon went on a well-armed, years-long hunt for something he called “peace with honor.” Today, the catchword is finding an “exit strategy” that can “salvage U.S. prestige.” What we want, it seems, is peace with “dignity.” In Vietnam, there was no honor left, only horror. There is no American dignity to be found in Iraq either, only horror. In a Washington of suddenly lowered expectations, dignity is defined as hanging in there until an Iraqi government that can’t even control its own Interior Ministry or the police on the streets of the capital gains “stability,” until the Sunni insurgency becomes a mild irritation, and until that American embassy under construction, that eighth wonder of the world of security and comfort, becomes an eye-catching landmark on the capital’s skyline.

Imagine. That’s all we want. That’s our dignity. And for that dignity and the imagined imperial stability of the world, our top movers and shakers will proceed to monkey around for months creating and implementing plans that will only ensure further catastrophe (which, in turn, will but breed more rage, more terrorism that spreads disaster to the Middle East and actually lessens American power around the world).

Now, the neocons dreamers and their patrons, the greatest gamblers in our history, are slowly departing official Washington and the “realists” have hit the corridors of power that they always thought they owned. It wouldn’t hurt if they opened their eyes. Even imperial defenders should face reality. Someday, it’s something we’ll all have to do. In the meantime, call in the Hellfire-missile-armed Predator drones.

For Part 1 of “The Uncovered War,” Permanent Bases in Iraq, click here.

For Part 2 of “The Uncovered War,” Air Power in Iraq, click here.