The reality that the Vietnam War was a hopeless catastrophe definitively penetrated the mass American psyche when CBS Nightly News Anchor Walter Cronkite---the "most trusted man in America"---faced the facts.

That was in 1968, shortly after the Tet Offensive shredded any pretence that an American victory (whatever that would mean) was possible in Southeast Asia. When Lyndon Johnson heard Cronkite had turned on the war, he knew it was over, and soon thereafter declined to run again.

Now Tom Friedman has done the same thing about Iraq and Southwest Asia. Has anybody noticed?

Friedman has long been the lead neo-liberal cheerleader for the American attack on Iraq. From his perch on the New York Times op ed page, Friedman has pontificated long and in earnest about the need for the US military to establish "democracy" in the land once run by Saddam Hussein, that horrific dictator installed by the US military, then fired in the wake of 9/11 attacks conducted by his bitter rival, Osama bin Laden.

Somehow the Iraq war's supporters want us to believe that an administration that holds power by denying democracy in Florida and Ohio sincerely wants to bring it to Iraq.

But like Walter Cronkite on Vietnam, Tom Friedman has finally thrown in the towel. The prime reason, of course, is the staggering incompetence of the Bush/Rumsfield Keystone Kop campaign. As martial strategists, these guys make architects of the Vietnam catastrophe seem positively brilliant.

We can here spare ourselves a tour of this lethal Bush idiocy. That private funds are now being raised to pay for helmets and body armor to be worn by US troops is about all that need be said.

Since Vietnam, pro-peace bumper stickers have proclaimed the hope that the Pentagon would someday have to be funded with a bake sale. Under Bush/Halliburton, that day has finally come, tragically, for those abused and exploited troops the GOP has thrown so cynically into the abyss.

Now Friedman has reluctantly recognized that the US Commander-In-Chief's prime idea of a foreign policy initiative is to foist a ghastly backrub on a horrified German Prime Minister. George W. Bush is clearly incapable of the complex thought needed to win a war anywhere at any time, let alone in the infinitely complex Middle East.

Thus, says Friedman, "it is now obvious that we are not midwifing democracy in Iraq. We are baby-sitting a civil war."

Staying the course, Friedman says, "is pointless." We can't, he says, "throw more good lives after good lives."

Friedman proceeds to argue as if there is intelligent, honorable life in the White House. Having failed to make clear what it was doing in Iraq, the administration "at least owes us a Plan B."

But Bush/Cheney/Rove don't believe they owe anybody anything, least of all the American people. Friedman still hasn't faced the fact that Plan A through Plan Z has always been to establish permanent military bases in Iraq and control that oil, and that little else ever really mattered, except for maybe George 2 trying to show George 1 he's the better man.

Friedman predicts that the Bush-inspired chaos will send oil over $100/barrel. Unfortunately, he is still hung up on the catastrophic delusion that there is a place for nuclear power in our future other than as the ultimate terror target. But Friedman does have the sense to understand that higher oil prices will at least "spur more investment in alternative fuels that could one day make us independent of this volatile region."

That Team Bush may well fail even in establishing viable military bases in the Middle East remains undiscussed. Democratic neo-liberals haven't faced that reality any more than the fact that they have wimped away from two consecutive stolen presidential elections.

So Friedman proceeds as if Team Bush actually cares about negotiations and diplomacy, neither of which it can manage on any level.

When Walter Cronkite used his bully pulpit on America's most-watched evening news show to say it was time to leave Vietnam, mainstream America listened, having come largely to the same conclusion.

Lyndon Johnson may have been obsessed with "not losing" in Vietnam. But Walter Cronkite mattered. His willingness to say the war couldn't be won meant the American mood had changed. It never changed back.

Tom Friedman's capitulation is a parallel event. In a sane nation, it should have serious consequences. It certainly reflects a broad national consensus that Southwest Asia has matched Southeast Asia as a hopeless quagmire, a quicksand sinkhole from which even a well-run US military could never extract victory, let alone one being run into the ground by hopeless incompetents.

The tragedy now is that George W. Bush has neither the intelligence nor the integrity nor the heart to call a halt to the slaughter. And if the GOP stranglehold on the machinery of the American vote count is left unchallenged, the next occupant of the White House will certainly be no better.

Harvey Wasserman is co-editor of WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO?, to be published by The New Press on September 15. His HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES and SOLARTOPIA! are at