I find it hard to find words to describe what a disaster it may be if the US ends up engineering the return to power of a grossly unpopular ex-Baathist ex-Prime Minister. It's as if people are trying their hardest to come up with policies designed to end with Muqtada al-Sadr marching at the head of a crowd shouting "Death to America" into the rapidly abandoned Green Zone sometime in 2010.
In all likelihood, the President and Congress in 2010 will both be Democratic. Worsening the objective situation in Iraq in 2010 would be a feature, not a bug.
Of course, the Iraq war was largely architected and executed by Republicans, in a time when the Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress. It would be logical to blame Republicans for the consequences. However, Republicans are working hard to crystallize the "stab in the back" narrative --- i.e., that the war could have succeeded, if only it weren't for those meddling critics --- in the public consciousness. If this propaganda effort succeeds, then worsening the consequences of our inevitable withdrawal would pay political dividends for Republicans.
So far, I don't think they're succeeding, except among the "28 percenters" who believe basically anything that the right-wing noise machine spews out. But there's still a long way to go until withdrawal. And using foreign policy for political ends is hardly out of character for this administration.
UPDATE 2007-08-26: OK, in this post, my cynicism got the better of my sense. What can I say; I was in a bleak mood. Sometimes you can be too cynical. Truthfully, I don't think that this administration consciously wants to worsen long-run outcomes in Iraq.
However, I do think they're determined to extend the occupation until Bush leaves office. If they accomplish this, then one of two things will happen. Either the next administration will initiate the withdrawal, causing the aftermath to play out under their watch; or the next administration will remain in Iraq, extending Bush's running long-shot gamble that something good will happen someday. In either case, the outcome can be spun into reduced blame for the Bush administration. Probably, they even believe in earnest that the next administration would deserve the blame for a disastrous withdrawal.
Given that the desired outcome is to remain in Iraq until 2009 at all costs, the question becomes how to maintain some illusion of progress, some hope for imminent improvement, however flimsy, in the short term. Hence ongoing noise about ousting al-Maliki; hence the noise about Petraeus's September report; and hence, and hence, and hence.
When you're grasping at straws like this, it becomes easy to disregard the long-run consequences of your actions. It is not active malice that drives our astonishingly bad Iraq policy. It is selfish shortsightedness. But that's hardly better in the end, is it.