Cross-posted on my blog.

Much of blogtopia has been talking about the sobering article by Robin Wright and Ellen Knickmeyer in Sunday’s Washington Post. I don’t have time to comment right now — the kids actually start school Tuesday (!) — but the piece is definitely worth a complete read. The title accurately sums up the story: “U.S. Lowers Sights On What Can Be Achieved in Iraq.” Here are the first few paragraphs:

The Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad.

The United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society in which the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges, U.S. officials say.

“What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground,” said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. “We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we’re in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning.”

Is this code for theocracy?

“We set out to establish a democracy, but we’re slowly realizing we will have some form of Islamic republic,” said another U.S. official familiar with policymaking from the beginning, who like some others interviewed would speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity

A couple of former government officials are quoted on the record, including Stanford’s Larry Diamond. He says the US is “cutting corners” and that both Iraq and the US are lowering ambitions.

Judith S. Yaphe, a former CIA analyst on Iraq now at the National Defense University, says the Bush administration had “unrealistic expectations at the start” and is now trying to fashion at least a “partial exit strategy.”

Finally, consider this from Wayne White, former head of the State Department’s Iraq intelligence team, now at the Middle East Institute:

“The administration says Saddam ran down the country. But most damage was from looting [after the invasion], which took down state industries, large private manufacturing, the national electric” system.

Ironically, White said, the initial ambitions may have complicated the U.S. mission: “In order to get out earlier, expectations are going to have to be lower, even much lower. The higher your expectation, the longer you have to stay. Getting out is going to be a more important consideration than the original goals were. They were unrealistic.”

It’s sort of like a long, national nightmare.

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