BAGHDAD — It's a damning indication of how poorly things have gone for the United States during its five-year misadventure in Iraq that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can drive in broad daylight though this war-ravaged city and spend the night at the presidential palace, but George W. Bush can't._
Mr. Ahmadinejad was greeted with lavish ceremony yesterday as he became the first Iranian President to visit Baghdad, a trip some said reflected Iran's great and growing power in Iraq and how severely the U.S. effort to remake Iraq into a Western-friendly democracy has gone awry._
Nearly 4,000 American soldiers have died since the war began in 2003, but Iraq's U.S.-backed government warmly welcomed Washington's No. 1 enemy with flowers and a band.
Apparently ignoring repeated U.S. charges that Iran is destabilizing his country, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani smiled broadly as he greeted Mr. Ahmadinejad outside his palace. Hailing a new era in ties between their states, the two men clasped hands and exchanged traditional kisses on the cheeks before walking together down a red carpet to review an honour guard as a military band played the two national anthems.
Despite the presence of 157,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, the visit left the impression that Iran's President now feels more comfortable in Baghdad than his U.S. counterpart does.
Unlike Mr. Bush's cloak-and-dagger visits here — fly-in trips to heavily guarded U.S. military bases that only last a few hours, often with no advance notice given to even the Iraqi government — Mr. Ahmadinejad's schedule was announced days earlier…
Joost Hiltermann, a regional analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, noted that the groups now in power in Iraq, including key Shia and Kurdish political factions, are some of same groups that allied themselves with Tehran during the conflict while the United States was supporting Mr. Hussein. Many Iraqi Shia leaders lived in Iran during the war, while Mr. Talabani, a Sunni Kurd, speaks fluent Farsi.
"There was always a contradiction in American policy in Iraq," he said. "If you want to turn Iraq into a democracy, you're going to bring Iran's friends to power.
"If people in Washington are surprised [at the reception for Mr. Ahmadinejad] it's because they didn't understand what they were getting into."
Whether we can "win" or not, whether the "surge" is "working" or not, what will happen if we "lose"--these are all imbecilic questions.
They always have been.
The only important question, the only important consideration since this fiasco started five years ago has always been: what can we "win"?
What will "winning" look like?
And will "winning" be worth the cost?
Three trillion of your dollars. Four thousand dead American sons and daughters, and fathers and mothers. Over twenty thousand seriously wounded American soldiers.
And what did all that "win" you?
A mid-eastern country where the President of the United States can only fly in and out of in the dead of night, while the very nearly insane President of Iran gets greeted with flowers and marching bands.
Playing the Iranian national anthem.
And you paid for it.
And you'll pay for it for the rest of your lives.
And still, through dozens of Democratic and Republican debates, after millions of words in magazines and newspapers and on the Tee Vee, not one single "mainstream" journalist is asking the only question that ever should have been asked about this stupid, expensive, catastrophic, illegal war:
Just what exactly can we hope to "win"?