THE WAGES OF INCOMPETENCE. When I run into conservatives, especially neoconservatives, a point I impress upon them with which they either eagerly or grudgingly agree is this: Because of the bungled, too-few-troops, no-occupation-strategy, go-it-mostly-alone approach in Iraq, we may never know for sure whether the grandiose theories of the PNAC�ers like Paul Wolfowitz are visionary or foolhardy. Although I happen to find the PNAC approach frightening, my view is incidental to that fact. Iraq became a Petri dish experiment in which the �Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal� forgot to place the organisms and the stimulant agent inside the dish in the first place. Would a 70-nation, 400,000-troop, coordinated effort with a detailed plan to overthrow Saddam, secure the borders, defend the ministries and oil supply lines, and move in with political and humanitarian assistance have worked? I still think this question will go down as the great counterfactual mystery of the Bush years, despite Matt and Sam having mounted a strong case against the notion that poor management was really the root cause of our problems in Iraq.

Back in the non-hypothetical world, in his latest column over at Salon (subscription or ad-watch required), Sid Blumenthal makes a rather trenchant observation: The more Bush links his Iraq misadventure to the war on terror, the worse it looks for his record of management on the war on terror -- one of his few, remaining areas of general public support. Writes Blumenthal:

President Bush's staggering mismanagement of the Iraqi occupation, making the old colonial "savage wars of peace" appear by comparison as case studies for modern business schools of benign competence, has until recently served his purpose of seeming to defy the elements of chaos he himself has aroused. By stringing every threat together into an immense plot that justifies a global war on terrorism, however, he has ultimately made himself hostage to any part of the convoluted story line that goes haywire.

Because he�s unwilling to admit mistakes or change course, Bush is not only undermining his chances -- if there are any, at this point -- in Iraq, but destroying the rest of his non-domestic policy legitimacy. (Katrina did the same for Bush�s domestic policy legitimacy.) The price of putting the flunky who doesn�t listen and can�t follow instructions in charge of the chemistry lab is that inevitably something goes haywire or blows up in your face.

--Tom Schaller