What is he thinking?

On a day when Shiite vigilantes conducted hangings in Sadr City in reprisal for the killing of scores of their co-religionists in a market bombing, President Bush continued to insist that progress in Iraq justified staying the course.

“By their response over the past two weeks, Iraqis have shown the world that they want a future of freedom and peace,” he said Monday. “We’re helping Iraqis build a strong democracy so that old resentments will be eased and the insurgency marginalized.”

Contrast that fantasy with the same day’s harsh news: “In Sadr City, the Shiite section in Baghdad where the terrorist suspects were executed, government forces vanished,” reported the New York Times. “The streets are ruled by aggressive teenagers with shiny soccer jerseys and machine guns. They set up roadblocks and poke their heads into cars and detain whomever they want. Mosques blare warnings on loudspeakers for American troops to stay out. Increasingly, the Americans have been doing just that.”

The next day, 87 corpses, all male, were found scattered throughout the city, shot or strangled after being bound and blindfolded. This, in turn, was in apparent reprisal for a series of bombings on Sunday targeting Shiite civilians that killed 58 and wounded 300, according to Iraq’s Health Ministry.

Of course, the drip-drip of American troop deaths continues, as Lance Cpl. Bunny Long, 22, of Modesto, Calif., will be coming home in a flag-draped casket after being killed Friday by a suicide bomber with a vehicle-borne IED.

If such constant mayhem is taken as a sign of progress, three years after the U.S. invasion, then Bush surely will be thrilled by what the future holds. The British, on the other hand, have seen the handwriting on the wall and once again have begun to flee an imperial disappointment in Mesopotamia, announcing they are reducing their forces by 10%. Clearly, London has grasped what Bush cannot: The three-year occupation by Western armies is an incitement to guerrilla violence, not an impediment.

Of course, Bush would have us believe this expanding civil war is the work of insidious foreigners rather than of competing agendas arising from within an Iraq society long stunted by colonialism and dictatorship. It does not occur to him that he is the foreigner whom the majority of Iraqis hold responsible for the country’s despair, and whose occupation immeasurably strengthens the hand of extremists on all sides. Bush’s neoconservative Svengalis apparently failed to alert him to the possibility that religious, ethnic and nationalist sentiments might trump his plans for a Western-imposed “democracy,” subservient to U.S. interests. Or that U.S.-engineered elections would be won by allies and disciples of the radical Shiite government in the “evil axis” capital of Tehran.

Such bright contradictions were on display in Bush’s latest strategically bankrupt “plan” for victory: spending $3.3 billion to fight the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that Bush now claims Iran is smuggling into Iraq — to the very Shiite forces that won the U.S.-engineered election and are positioned to form the first real post-Hussein government. The IEDs, mentioned a whopping 26 times in the president’s speech, have obviously come to replace that nonexistent WMD threat as the centerpiece of Bush’s Iraq policy. We will stop them, he says, by bumping anti-IED-related spending by a factor of 22, from $150 million in 2004 to $3.3 billion. “We’re putting the best minds in America to work on this effort,” Bush said.

Why not put a few of them to work on figuring how to extract the U.S. military from Iraq instead? After all, that is where all the IEDs happen to be exploding.

But, of course, this alternative, to stop making U.S. troops targets in the midst of a raging civil war in a Muslim country that the United States has no business occupying, was summarily dismissed by our president.

“[M]y decisions on troop levels will be made based upon the conditions on the ground and on the recommendations of our military commanders, not artificial timetables set by politicians here in Washington, D.C.,” he said.

Has the president never read our Constitution, which mandates civilian control over the military? Does he not grasp that he is himself a Washington politician? How can you effectively sell democracy to the world when you mock it so contemptuously at home?

You can’t. Not until the public and its representatives force this administration to change its disastrous course can we begin to restore international respect for the American political system that Bush has so masterfully subverted.

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