The New York Times inexplicably surrrendered most of an entire page of its Sunday Opinion section to allow the champions of America’s disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq to explain what we should do to achieve "mission accomplished."

Predictably, none of the 9 contributors says "wrong question." And none suggests we should just leave, or that our invasion was a strategic and immoral blunder or that our continued occupation is the core problem.

With some exceptions, it’s the same head-in-Iraq’s-sand crowd that has been wrong about everything, now telling us how to make them look right. For "balance," the Times allows Paul Eaton to call for regional negotiations, while Anthony Cordesman suggests an "orderly exit" that would leave "only" 5 combat brigades, so that the costs of staying indefinitely would be acceptable to the American public. And there’s an obligatory acknowledgment from Princeton’s Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter that if we can’t pacify Iraq enough, we might have a moral obligation to help the over 4.7 million refugees and displaced persons.

But the rest of the page is devoted to various flavors of neocons debating how best to sustain America’s imperialist strategy in the Middle East. Trailing the pack, Ken Pollack shows he’s on top of events with this observation:

There is a real danger that the deteriorating situation in the south will begin to undermine the progress in Baghdad and the north if left unchecked. It is just not clear that the north can continue to be stabilized if the south collapses.

It’s strange that serious policy expert Pollack doesn’t mention that pro-Iranian government forces seized control of Basra last month after the Mahdi Army backed down at Iran’s request. Meanwhile, in the "stabilized" north, we’ve had Sadr City’s 2.5 million people under siege since March resulting in hundreds of deaths and the highest US casualties in seven months. While Pollack was writing about our "gains" in Baghdad, our "precision" missiles crippled the ambulance fleet and damaged the area’s major hospital. In Diyala Province and elsewhere there have been several massive car bombings in recent weeks each killing dozens of Iraqis.

Siun’s post last night has more on conditions in the North. Yesterday, four more US soldiers were killed in Anbar.

Undeterred by facts, two staunch imperialists, Paul Bremer and Fred Kagan have a serious debate: Bremer says we should confront the ungrateful Iraqis and force Baghdad to "pay its way," but Kagan says we shouldn’t "drain Iraq’s cash" because that might give the world the wrong impression:

Iraq has a lot of money from oil, and we should do what we can to help and encourage the Iraqis to spend their money on rebuilding their country whenever possible.

But a dangerous note has crept into the discussion, a tinge of imperialism, in fact. The argument that Iraq should use its oil revenues to pay the United States sounds like the ultimate proof that we invaded Iraq for mercenary reasons.

If it insists that Iraq underwrite American military forces, Congress would do catastrophic damage to our image in the world, particularly the Muslim world. America does not go to war for profit — ever. We should not make it appear as if we do.

"Tinge" of imperialism? Apparently Kagan assumes the world couldn’t possibly think America was being imperialist when we invadad Iraq, (literally) decapitated its rulers, helped install a puppet government and sustain it against political opponents; and no one will mind that John McCain now plans a 100 year occupation to control their oil (oops, didn’t mean that). But if we asked the Iraqis to contribute to the costs of our mistake (as neocon Wolfowitz told Congress we would), it might harm our reputation in the Muslim world.

Are these people seriously insane?! It’s not possible to harm our international reputation any more than the neocon Bush/Cheney/McCain policies already have.

Danielle Pletka argues that we have to maintain a strong military presence in Iraq indefinitely, because otherwise those in the region might contend over who should hold sway, and we can’t allow those in the region to decide these things. No imperialist rationale there.

But the chutzpah award goes to Richard Perle, who says "it’s time to cut the cord" and offers this astonishing insight:

The most important thing we can do to help the Iraqis and ourselves is to recognize — and reverse — the seminal mistake that followed the quick destruction of Saddam Hussein’s murderous regime: the foolish (however well-meaning) and arrogant belief that we know better than the Iraqis how to rebuild their devastated society. . . . Stop! Iraqis know far better than we what makes sense for them.

Gee, thanks, Dick for that pearl. You’re only five years, 4071+ dead American soldiers, 30,000 wounded, $3 trillion in costs, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead/wounded, 4.5 million displaced/refugees and a destroyed Iraq too late.

Why anyone still gives these "serious experts" editorial space is the great mystery of our Times.

Update: More reviews from Hullabaloo’s Tristero, Ackerman, and Yglesias. (h/t Atrios)