In American proconsul Paul Bremer's 2003 master plan, last week's election was meant to be the culminating act in entrenching democratic rule in Iraq. Instead it marks the nadir of the American enterprise there. The brutal failure of that enterprise, and of the similarly unlawful tactics employed in the war on terror, has boosted terrorist ranks worldwide, dealt grievous blows to the notion that human rights and the rule of law are essential elements in building democracy, and brought the US's standing to its lowest point in generations.
But the real victim of the war is Iraq. Despite the exercise of awesome US power and the expenditure of billions of dollars, the security situation grows worse by the month. Iraq remains the most violent country in the world, with a leadership that dare not set foot among its people. But President Bush is not prepared to countenance any compromise in his original war goals. Despite recent talk of pulling down troop levels, he finally declared that "we will settle for nothing less than victory".
The carnage in Iraq is not primarily caused by the insurgents. It is the death squads run by the Shia and Kurdish militias - according to former US diplomat James Dobbins, who is now with the Rand Corporation - who bring about a greater threat of civil war. Indeed the former US-appointed Iraqi leader Ayad Allawi has accused Jalal Talabani's regime of committing human-rights abuses against Sunnis that are as egregious as those under Saddam Hussein.