Now what?

With apologies to the Leopard Man of Skye

The leopard can't change its spots

The White House would like us to believe that The Decider has suddenly become The Deliberator. After having rushed headlong into war in Iraq, W insists he won't be rushed into deciding what to do next. His promised speech about a new "way forward" has been delayed from December until some time in January, TBD. A round of conspicuous consultation has so far yielded nothing public except photo ops. What to do, what to do?

We've seen this movie before. The scenes where W tells us he hasn't made up his mind yet are just well-rehearsed stagecraft to make us suspend disbelief and imagine that we have elected a president who is actually capable of deliberation and forethought. I, for one, do not believe it for a minute. George Bush can no more become a stragetic and innovative thinker than the leopard can change its spots. He is what he is and we're stuck with him. He's already made up his mind and he's just waiting to spring it on us after we've had a nice Christmas and spent all our money, just as Jesus taught us to do to celebrate his birth.

George is trapped. His whole presidency has been devoted to proving he can do what his daddy did, only better. Whatever he says in public, you just have to know that he's thinking, If I don't succeed in Iraq it'll make my record look bad, so I have no choice except to keep trying to succeed. And for George, success means winning, beating the bad guys mano a mano — by surrogate, of course. The man has "issues," and the last thing his neuroses can stand is the thought of being the girlie man who lost Iraq.

George claims he sleeps well. If that's true it's just more evidence of his divorce from reality, because no one in touch with reality could send so many men and women to fight, die, and be wounded and not be bothered by the suffering he has caused.

The Baker-Hamilton commission gave George lots of free advice, but don't count on him following any of it. He's already ruled out many of their most important recommendations. That's significant, not because the recommendations were spectacularly brilliant — they weren't — but because they threw the man a life preserver, a face-saving opportunity to get himself out of the hole he's dug us into, and he's too proud and stubborn to take it.

The Iraq Study Group report (Baker-Hamilton) did do one thing well: it finally said the truth that everyone except W already knew: "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating." In that respect the report has had an impact; W has finally admitted that the U.S. is "not winning" in Iraq. After years of telling us how great it was, that represents enormous improvement.

The recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, on the other hand, were really a laundry list of pretty common sensical things that might possibly improve the situation. (In fairness, that's all the ISG promised: "There is no path that can guarantee success, but the prospects can be improved.")

That said, the big $64,000 question (Remember when that used to be a lot of money?) remains: What should we do? More of the same isn't going to cut it. We have to do something different.

Like what? I don't have a nice neat answer, but I do think I know where to start thinking about an answer. The war is costing more than $2 billion per week; that's the Bush estimate for next year, and the budget officer has admitted that's already too low. So, what could you do with $2 billion a week in Iraq if you weren't fighting the war? Or, if you drew down the war effort by half, what could you do with $1 billion a week?

• Iraq has roughly 33% unemployment. With $1B, you could pay 2 million Iraqis $500 a week to clean up, fix up, rebuild things

• Or, you could spend $500 million a week on infrastructure, and still employ 1 million Iraqis

It's a thought....