How do you triangulate among death, hypocrisy and stupidity? Not at all logically, which is why Hillary Clinton’s dissembling on Iraq has become a fatal embarrassment not only for her but for anyone who hopes she can provide progressive leadership for the nation. If she has still not found the courage to reverse course on this disastrous war, why assume that as president she would behave any differently?

It is unconscionable that those who can accurately measure the true cost of the Iraq folly in wasted lives and resources — more than 2,500 Americans, tens of thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of billions of dollars — dare prefer her to potential 2008 presidential election rivals John Kerry, Al Gore, Russ Feingold and John Edwards, who have all come to speak honestly of this quagmire and our need to extricate ourselves from it.

If your priority is to support an inspiring female candidate to break America’s ultimate glass ceiling, why not draft Barbara Boxer? Not electable? Nonsense: The California senator thrashed her conservative GOP opponent in a reelection campaign that shunned the failed strategy of Democratic hacks and instead emphasized principle over opportunism. She proved her political integrity again this past week by voting alongside Kerry and Feingold to set a date for getting out of Iraq.

Not so Sen. Clinton, who seems determined to revive the Cold War liberalism that gave us the Vietnam War — which, according to Robert McNamara, the brilliant Democratic war architect who later conceded he himself didn’t believe in that enterprise, took more than 3 million lives.

“I do not think it is a smart strategy, either, for the president to continue with his open-ended commitment, which I think does not put enough pressure on the new Iraqi government,” said Clinton last week at the “Take Back America” conference. “Nor do I think it is smart strategy to set a date certain. I do not agree that that is in the best interests.”

This is pure gibberish designed to sound reasonable. The Bush administration has pressured the Iraqi government plenty, from trying to place its handpicked intelligence “assets” in power right after seizing Baghdad through the unseemly act of a sitting U.S. president dropping into Iraq last week uninvited and unannounced — a mockery of the claim that we have transferred sovereignty to the Iraqi people.

For more than three years, the United States has micro-managed everything from turning the American taxpayer-financed occupation into a grab fest for U.S. corporate war profiteers to the failed training of the country’s new security apparatus, now dominated by Shiite fanatics. Unfortunately for the great imperial Pax Americana scheme of building a pliable, secular government in Baghdad, a goal Clinton shares with the president, the Iraqi voters soundly rejected the candidates favored by the Pentagon and CIA. They chose instead the militant Shiites nurtured in the rogue nation of Iran, ever attendant to the twisted civics lessons of the ayatollahs on both sides of the border.

Predictably, the occupation by the U.S. military of a troubled Muslim nation cobbled together by European colonialists and ruled for decades by a tyrant has unleashed religious and nationalist impulses, increased the popular appeal of extremist and terror groups and destabilized the region. More clumsy “pressure” will only lead to more violent blowback, something Clinton should have known when she voted for this unjustified war in 2002.

Like Kerry, Clinton later pitifully explained that vote as a result of being “misled” by a president whom she shouldn’t have trusted for a second. Kerry, however, seems to have finally rediscovered the concern he felt as a returning combat veteran, and is outraged that young Americans again are being sent to kill and be killed in a war that makes no sense, except for companies such as Halliburton and Bechtel.

Self-proclaimed “moderate” Democrats, who defend staying in Iraq, like to pretend they are the grown-ups in the argument. In reality, they are like children who have closed their ears to avoid hearing an uncomfortable truth: The longer we’ve stayed, the worse things have gotten, and that will continue to be the case.

It is not the Iraqi government that needs to be pressured by Americans, but rather our own. Clinton needs to stop prattling on about getting the Iraqi government to do this or that wonderful thing before we can pull out.

The country needs an honest debate about the lies that led to this war and the true costs of its continuance. Presumably those Democrats who cheered Hillary last week are eager to win back at least one branch of Congress in the midterm election in order to revitalize our Constitution’s bedrock system of checks and balances and are looking to Clinton to help get them there.

But what check or balance is Sen. Clinton presenting on the most pressing issue of the day? None.

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