Unfortunately, although the current administration was the prime mover in drawing us into our interminable conflict in the Middle East, it is our troops who have been tasked with trying to control an insoluble scramble of political infighting, insurgencies and international cross fire. Meanwhile, commanders in the field determine policy in a political landscape poorly understood by both the administration and its military leaders.

What the public is given to understand by officialdom is often convoluted and superficial, presumably because things are just too complicated for ordinary Americans to understand and evaluate. We are simply expected to swallow the ever-changing rationale for invading Iraq and celebrate the fact that a Sunni change of heart along with our support has got Al Qaeda ‘on the run’ – – Al Qaeda, a problem that arose after Saddam Hussein was routed leaving an unaddressed political vacuum and civil disorder.

But never mind, Iran is now said to be the biggest problem for our military and the Maliki government to which effete entity President Bush has affixed himself so unalterably. As so many advisors and Middle East experts foretold, we would soon be involved in a civil war. Making things much more complicated, however, is that conflict isn’t just between former Baathists or Sunnis and Shiites but also among warring Shiite factions. And there we are right in the middle of things, hitching our wagon to something less than a star, taking sides in an internal political struggle.

But concerns about our involvement in Iraq aren’t only about how long combat troops will be deployed there. What’s to be done, for example, about the millions of refugees in neighboring countries or the other dispossessed Iraqis homeless on the country’s borders?

And what of the thousands of Blackwater mercenaries whose contract has just been renewed? Who’s in charge of those devilish details and whose responsibility is it to determine whether or not we should be building permanent bases and maintaining a large presence in Iraq into the far-distant future or tying ourselves to the Maliki regime?

One keeps hearing Democrats blamed for ‘losing’ the war in Viet Nam. After ten years with nearly forty thousand American deaths and many more casualties, political hawks still manage to accuse Democrats of being weak on defense for leaving Southeast Asia to a “domino effect” that never quite happened. In fact today Viet Nam has a viable economy, is one of our trading partners and a destination for American tourists.  Was John Kerry wrong to ask who should be the last fighter to die for a mistake after ten years of death and destruction?

While it may not be possible or advisable to set a specific timetable for withdrawal, surely the right questions need to be asked. The administration isn’t inclined to ask about such things, and General Patraeus and his consort appear committed to a continuation of current tactics and levels of deployment. Oft-repeated condemnations of Iran could make a person jittery about our ultimate intentions in the region. And, contrary to some of the rosy scenarios offered about Maliki’s efforts vis-a-vis Sadr and enhanced training of his security forces, the situation is a lot more problematic; upon closer examination one might conclude that things aren’t really going all that well after all – – surge-wise.

In his appearance on C-Span’s Washington Journal, Monday, April 07, 2008, Jack Keane, Retired General and former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, provided a great example of why the public finds our foreign policy so confusing. When asked by a caller about our inability to send more troops to Afghanistan because of being tied down in Iraq, Keane responded that Afghanistan wasn’t “at the crisis stage” as was Iraq. That is a position at odds with the facts, especially since the Pakistan border was and is a haven for Al Qaeda and Taliban forces that maintain terrorist centers and continue to disrupt the region. Keane’s definition of a crisis stage seems to converge with decisions made regarding Iraq during his tenure as a high-ranking member of the service.

Apparently, there isn’t any coherent plan for what happens next in Iraq – – what victory would look like or how we can cut our military and financial losses. Policy will continue to be set by military leaders whose vision of things coincides with the administration’s tenuous understanding of how the world works – – until a new set of leaders emerges to begin the laborious ascent out of the deep hole that has been dug for us.