Private security companies "have been shooting a lot of people" in Iraq. What's surprising -- though hopeful -- is that a prosecutor cares enough to bring cases before a grand jury. How are these groups different from the death squads in Latin America in the 1980s & 1990s? Extra-military, heavily armed political muscle will inevitable be used to eliminate "enemies of freedom." And why would we expect Iraqis & the rest of the Muslim world to see these thugs as anything other than what they manifestly are? Neoconservative thinkers (if that's not a contradiction in terms) urged George W. Bush into a disastrous war on the theory that the US could plant democracy in the Middle East; predictably, the opposite appears to have happened. Where were these guys during Vietnam? Or, right. The Bush administration has squandered American influence around the world for at least a generation & permanently damaged our credibility. During Vietnam, one heard a lot from the Nixon administration about staying the course in order to maintain American credibility, all the while squandering that very credibility. The American defeat in Vietnam turned out to be good for Vietnam, which now prospers economically, though it would have been immeasurably better had the US not continued the Vietnam War after the French were finally kicked out in 1956. The best outcome anybody could credibly imagine for the American presence in Vietnam after about 1965 was the ongoing though precarious existence of an American client state requiring indefinite American support. In the end, the American government didn't even get that. Certainly, the best anybody in the US government can imagine for Iraq right now is a semi-permanent American client state in Iraq, with the Kurds pretty much running their own show & the Shias & Sunnis fighting over the carcass of what is left. A British officer was quoted on NPR yesterday as saying the diminished violence in southern Iraq was the result of British troops pulling out. It seems pretty clear that, despite happy noises in the press about how things are calming down in Iraq, a continued US presence will result in more, not less violence. More importantly for American interests, though, is that a principled withdrawal & recognition of the fundamental errors of judgment on which the war was based, would represent a first small step toward rebuilding American "credibility." The imperial, fortress-like American embassy in Baghdad would need to be torn down or handed over to the Iraqis with the proviso that it become a university or a museum, cultural institutions decimated by the American war. Such a withdrawal, of course, could only take place under a Democratic president. The bad news is that even a Democratic president, should one be elected, will be unlikely to initiate such a withdrawal. I wonder if in 2010 Americans will watch on Fox & CNN as the last embassy staff are helicoptered from the roof of the embassy in a replay of Saigon in 1975. Seems likely.