AUSTIN, Texas -- For all I know, we may have just done something smart in Fallujah by hiring ex-Iraqi troops to take it over, but it's sure not what we said we were going to do when we started to go in. Then, the photos from the Abu Ghraib prison horror hit. Let's hear it for privatization again. We just cannot get a break over there.

            I think we're at a point when it's useless to continue the argument over whether the glass is half-empty or half-full. Things are going very badly in Iraq. I'm sure some of our professional patriotic bullies will denounce this as unpatriotic pessimism, harmful to the morale of the troops, etc. I think it's more important to recognize reality.

            Even though I still consider getting rid of Saddam Hussein an unmitigated good, we may have lost the peace very early on. Peter Galbraith, writing in the May 13 New York Review of Books, reports that the initial looting right after the war ended was unbelievably costly in both monetary terms and Iraqi support. Others have concluded that the corruption, so familiar under Hussein and now again in full flower with the private contractors, has so wiped out respect for our efforts that Iraqis are concluding we are "just like Saddam." For us to continue killing Iraqis for their own good is not a policy likely to redound to our benefit.

            Galbraith recommends not a partition of the country, but rather a federation in which the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds are each allowed to choose pretty much their own form of government. The Kurds could keep their own governing council, the Shiites would choose an Islamic republic, and who knows what the Sunnis want.

            "These republics would be self-governing, financially self-sustaining and with their own territorial military and police forces," Galbraith recommends. "The central government would have a weak presidency rotating among the republics, with responsibility limited to foreign affairs, monetary policy and some coordination of defense policy."

            Anyone have a better idea? A countrywide election will yield a Shiite government, in turn leading almost inevitably to civil war.

            I am so depressed and disgusted with this misbegotten occupation, I've resorted to the old expedient of trying to figure out how we got here in the first place. I read Bob Woodward's book "Plan of Attack." Like everyone else who knows him, I consider Woodward a superb reporter, but he has the oddest inability to sort the wheat from the chaff or to put either of them into context. For a particularly delicious parody of Woodward at his deadly earnest worst, see Christopher Buckley's essay in the May 3 issue of The New Yorker.

            One point on which I found the book quite helpful is the much-debated issue of whether Bush & Co. lied about the weapons of mass destruction, were fed bad intelligence or engaged in self-deception. It seems to have been a combination of self-delusion and cherry-picking from some very unclear intelligence.

            I found Richard Clarke's book "Against All Enemies" more useful, since he goes back through the mistakes made by a series of administrations. In retrospect, by focusing only on the terrorist threat, one can see the mistakes quite clearly, but in fairness, terrorism was not the only consideration in most of those cases.  

            It is quite possible the final lesson of the Iraq debacle will be that the military is the wrong tool for the terrorist job. This brings us back to the original rhetorical trap we got ourselves into by talking about "the war on terror." Wars are fought by the military, but the tools needed include a huge intelligence operation as well as criminal investigation.

            To this end, how stupid is it that we have two dozen treasury agents chasing Cuban embargo violators and only four tracking terrorist money. As Rep. William Delahunt , D-Mass., put it, "We're chasing old ladies on bicycle trips in Cuba when we should be concentrating on the significant tools against shadowy terrorist organizations."

            This goes back to an old sore point in this administration's fight against terrorism. When the Bushies came in, they abandoned the multilateral efforts Bill Clinton had set up to track offshore money, and even after 9-11 they only reluctantly endorsed increasing Treasury's power to follow the money. It is not paranoia or conspiracy-mongering to point out that this reluctance stems from the unhappy habit of so many American rich people to keep their money in offshore accounts in order to avoid taxes (see Enron, etc.).

            To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.