Krugman opens his column with a quote from Orwell:

“We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”

(A parenthetic aside — it’s ironic that the most vocal, self-proclaimed heirs to Orwell’s throne so perfectly illustrate the self-delusional thinking he dissected. Memo to Andrew Sullivan: the point of 1984 was not to argue that the manipulation of language in pursuit of a political agenda is a good thing.)

Krugman continues:

So they lied to us; what else is new? But there’s more at stake here than the administration’s credibility. The official story line portrayed a virtuous circle of nation-building, one that could eventually lead to a democratic Iraq, allied with the U.S. In fact, we seem to be faced with a vicious circle, in which a deteriorating security situation undermines reconstruction, and the lack of material progress adds to popular discontent. Can this situation be saved?

Even among harsh critics of the administration’s Iraq policy, the usual view is that we have to finish the job. You’ve heard the arguments: We broke it; we bought it. We can’t cut and run. We have to stay the course.

I understand the appeal of those arguments. But I’m worried about the arithmetic.

All the information I’ve been able to get my hands on indicates that the security situation in Iraq is really, really bad. It’s not a good sign when, a year into an occupation, the occupying army sends for more tanks. Western civilians have retreated to armed enclaves. U.S. forces are strong enough to defend those enclaves, and probably strong enough to keep essential supplies flowing. But we don’t have remotely enough troops to turn the vicious circle around. The Iraqi forces that were supposed to fill the security gap collapsed — or turned against us — at the first sign of trouble.

And all of the proposals one hears for resolving this ugly situation seem to be either impractical or far behind the curve.