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(Photo of taps being played at Arlington by AP Photo/Kevin Wolf.)

The day that the Iraq Study Group released its much anticipated report detailing the "grave and deteriorating" conditions in Iraq and recommending the President change his course, the official barometer of public moods, NBC's Tim Russert, passionately sounded the alarms as the Baker/Hamilton/O'Connor intervention unfolded before the public, press, and Congress. It was as though the catastrophe of Iraq and the need for an extaordinary intervention had been revealed to us for the first time. It was another Walter Cronkite Viet Nam moment.

Over the next week, the media zeroed in on what they assumed was the relevant question: "Will the President listen?" It was an interesting question, revealing more about how far the centrist media lags behind than it was asking about the President. Initial analyses wondered how a President so desparately in need of a "graceful exit" could possibly ignore so clear a message from such a distinghished, centrist and bipartisan group of Americans.

The wrong question stayed on the media's minds for about a week, while many of us waited impatiently for that inevitable epiphany, best exemplified by ISG member Leon Panetta. Barely a week after the report's release, he expressed total surprise that the President didn't seem to be listening at all and never had any intention of changing his fundamental policies or the way he pursued them.

WASHINGTON — Iraq Study Group member Leon E. Panetta believed that his panel's unanimous bipartisan recommendations about a new way forward in Iraq would give President Bush the political cover needed for a dramatic policy shift. So the former chief of staff to President Clinton has watched with alarm as Bush this week signaled that he may reject suggestions about diplomacy and withdrawing most US troops from Iraq by 2008.

Bush has even criticized the idea that the group was providing a "graceful exit" from the war — which is what Panetta and other panel members figured Bush most wanted.

What does it mean when a savvy and experienced Washington hand like Panetta, along with most of the media, is still surprised by all this? [sigh] At least now even the Beltway knows the answer to the wrong question, so perhaps it's time the media got to the more difficult and important question: "What should the country do when the President and his men continue to drive the bus into the Iraq ditch, but they ignore both the ISG report and the electorate's resounding message to start disengaging from Iraq?

Throughout this period, the Cheney/Lieberman/McCain/Kristol crowd who neoconned us into this war unleashed legions of neocon "experts" to every news outlet. Knowing that their careers, reputations and fantasies were at stake, they viciously ridiculed the ISG's recommendations as unrealistic, a recipe for humilitating defeat and a disaster for the Middle East if we followed the Baker/Hamilton "surrender monkeys." They counted on the press not asking whether their own policies were not already achieving the same results. And they had something that disengagement advocates did not have: the President's unwavering support.

As Swopa lamented here, now the media is accommodating the WH spin that the only questions worth asking are what will the President announce as the New Way Forward to victory in Iraq, when will he announce it, and how many more troops will he send to bring it about? Yet virtually everyone outside the neocon cabal agrees with the ISG conclusions that Iraq's condition is "grave and deteriorating" and that the President's policies are not only failing but exacerbating the problem. It is a tribute to the WH spin machine that they can induce an almost awake press to hold these conflicting views simultaneously without asking, "what's wrong with this picture?"

The Cheney/Lieberman/McCain/Kristol neocons are absolutely and irrevocably determined (h/t to Glenn for the link) to continue waging this war with however many American and Iraqi lives it takes to achieve whatever they define as victory (or avoid whatever they define as defeat). Nothing in the history of these men allows anyone to believe that they will ever see the world through different lenses. They're still at it. And the President we have for the next two years is, above all else, a true believer who cannot abandon his God-sanctioned policies without a personal crisis. He will break the Army before he risks breaking himself.

The President's men are going to prosecute this war to the bitter end no matter what the cost in lives and treasure, no matter what the American people said in November and no matter what the media think or what the family intervention wants. Reality-based thinking needs to start from that premise.

This is not just about sending more troops to Iraq to be shot at by everyone the President's policies and macho posturing are antagonizing, which is getting to be just about everyone. As the New York Times Sunday editorial, Unfinished Business (Times Select), reminds us, this Administration is hell bent to continue staining America's honor through every egregious violation of the rule of law — warrantless spying, renditions, indefinite detention, denial of counsel and legal recourse, torture, phony Iraq trials — brought to light in the last three years, not to mention those we don't yet know about but are undoubtedly occurring. And it's not just Middle Eastern "unlawful combatants" who are subject to the most serious crimes, now sanctioned by the Military Commission's Act. Immigrants and US citizens and whistleblowers and relief agencies are also victims or targets.

This regime does not believe in America. They don't accept the principle that the authority of government flows from the consent of the people. They don't believe in America's core ideas of democracy, or the rule of law, checks and balances, the Bill of Rights, individual human dignity, or such quaint notions as pursuing negotiations instead of war. They are putting the security of everyone in the Middle East, friends and foe alike, in danger, and they're starting to bring the war home.

So what do we do now? Nothing is going to stop these people from continuing what they're doing, and more of it, except removing them from office (or seriously threatening to do so). We need to begin asking questions about how we bring that about. A discussion might start here.