shiitestingposter_crop2.jpgWhat’s important about the memo, revealed yesterday, from an army colonel advising American forces in Iraq that recommends an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country?

It wasn’t an expression of official policy, just one colonel’s advice — and we quickly learned the author, Col. Timothy Reese, was something of a loose cannon in terms of his opinions.

Even so, after years of neocon hype of inevitable "victory," and as recently as three months ago (even after announcing a withdrawal timeline), President Obama still pretending that there was a mission to be accomplished, Col. Reese has formally placed on the table for discussion within the Pentagon an obvious truth regarding the U.S. in Iraq: "The use of the military instrument of national power in its current form has accomplished all that can be expected."

It’s about time that top U.S. military officials started facing that fact. For five years now, I’ve been writing about the ability of Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and the Shiite-dominated government he shepherded into power to resist American pressure — and been right nearly every time I bet on that ability to prevail.

A year ago, when the conventional wisdom was that Iraqi prime minister Maliki’s demands for a withdrawal timeline (during negotiations for a Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA) were just to placate Iraqi public opinion while coming up with a way for the U.S. to stay, I wrote that Sistani’s plan since 2004 was "to use the American military as a contractor of sorts to help cement a Shiite-led government’s power, then nudge us aside when the task was more or less complete."

Maliki’s successful insistence on a timeline, and the unexpected restrictions that Col. Reese’s memo says are now being placed on U.S. troops in the wake of the SOFA being implemented, represent that plan in action. And contrary to what many progressives would rightly hope, it’s not an expression of sovereignty on behalf of the Iraqi people. It’s Robert Shaw being hustled out of the building at the end of "The Sting."

Sure, prime minister Maliki may make noise about extending the U.S. presence — but make no mistake, any new agreement will be on the Iraqi government’s terms, which will have far less to do with building a functional, thriving democracy than with continuing to use American military might to crush Maliki’s political enemies.

The Iraq war was a "victory" not for the United States, nor for the Iraqi people, but rather for a corrupt and authoritarian-leaning regime whose most redeeming characteristic is that it isn’t quite as brutal and dictatorial (yet, anyway) as Saddam Hussein’s — which, sadly, was the obviously probable end result all along.