AUSTIN, Texas -- Iraq. What. A. Mess.

            As Cousin Eddie Faulk used to say during Vietnam, "If those folks don't like what we're doin' for 'em, why don't they just go back where they come from?"

            Eric Alterman sums up the position of the "We told you so" crowd thusly:

            -- The invasion of Iraq will cause, not prevent terrorism.

            -- The Bush administration was not to be trusted when it warned of the WMD threat.

            -- Going in without the United Nations is worse than not going in at all.

            -- They were asleep at the switch pre-9/11 and have been trying to cover this up ever since.

            -- And they manipulated 9-11 as a pretext for a long-planned invasion of Iraq.

            -- Any occupation by a foreign power, particularly one as incompetently planned as this one, will likely create more enemies than friends and put the United States in a situation similar at times to Vietnam, and at other times, similar to Israel's occupation of Lebanon; both were disasters.

            -- An invasion of Iraq will draw resources and attention away from the genuine perpetrators of the attack on us, and allow them to regroup for further attacks.

            -- Bonus: Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" will increase anti-Semitism worldwide."

            OK, that's the bad news. What's Josh Marshall calls "the hunky-dory crowd" is still telling us the electricity is back on and things are almost back up to where they were under Saddam Hussein. There's a mark to aim for.

            Look, I never root for bad things to happen, and maybe Moqtada Sadr has just set off a spasm of violence, not a real Shiite insurrection. As Marshall also notes, we expected Sunni opposition, but it doesn't make much sense for the Shiites to rise up now when all they have to do is sit back and wait. Maybe the Shiite outburst is just a reaction to Paul Bremer's incredibly dumb move in shutting down their newspaper. (Just for the record, occupiers purporting to bring democracy should never shut down newspapers.) If that's the case, why wasn't Sadr invited to the table and given a stake in the transition?

            The "we told you so" crowd often points out we'd be a lot better off if anyone in the administration read history, usually citing the British occupation of Iraq. Hell, try Napoleon's occupation of Egypt -- and he was an administrative genius who brought along a team of culturally sensitive advisers.

            I like to think of myself as part of the "so what do we do now?" crowd, but it is like drinking gall. We could try what we clearly should have done from the beginning -- put more boots on the ground. We've got 130,000 troops there now. (Remember when the Bushies told us it would be down to 30,000 by the end of last summer?) Gen. Eric Shinseki's "several hundred thousand" prediction looks more prescient all the time. The trouble with that scenario is that it violates the First Rule of Holes (when you're in one, quit digging.) Second, it may be too late.  

            Then there's the old reliable, "Bug out now." I always liked Sen. Aiken's advice on how to get out of Vietnam: "in boats." Yep, it could be time to declare victory and go home. That seems to be President Bush's plan. He can just say, "Well, we took care of the weapons of mass destruction, so we're outta here."

            As many others have pointed out, June 30 is just a ridiculous deadline. Even though we're not planning to withdraw on June 30, damned if I can see how we're going to hang onto what was supposed to be the great strategic advantage of this war. Those of you who follow neo-con thinking know this never was about weapons of mass destruction, it was supposed to give us a place to plonk ourselves down so we could restructure the entire region.

            I suspect what we'll wind up doing is the inevitable "muddle along" until our leaders can lie us out more or less gracefully. (George W. Bush will admit he made a mistake the day the Cubs win the World Series.)

            If I were John Kerry, I would be having such horrible nightmares about winning the election and actually having to ask an American soldier to be the last man to die for a mistake.

            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.