After watching hours of the dreary Senate hearings on Iraq on Tuesday, I have only one remaining question: Why would anybody want to be the next President of the United States?
There is no clear way forward or out of Iraq. Beyond changes on the margins - forcing the Iraqi government to pay more reconstruction costs, for example - the most likely prospect is more of the same slog in the hopes Iraqis eventually will build for themselves the country we are unable to build for them.
I say that despite knowing that Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have promised to withdraw our troops within a year or so, no matter the ground conditions. I don't believe it's a promise they can keep.
Obama admitted as much on Tuesday by creating big-time wiggle room for himself. He told Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker that everybody wants a "successful resolution" and that nobody was demanding a "precipitous withdrawal" of our troops. He also seemed to be seeking a way of defining limited victory rather than sticking with his vow of a rapid retreat.
It was a grownup moment for him, one that reflects the stubborn reality of Iraq. As bad as it is, and it is disastrously bad, it could get far worse if we suddenly pull the plug on our role.
Obama and Clinton had been ducking that issue in their primary battle, but ducking will not be an option in the general election or in the Oval Office. Faced with the prospect of an all-out civil war, maybe genocide and almost certainly a failed state taken over by Islamic fundamentalists or Iran, the next President will be forced to fight in some fashion.
Republican nominee John McCain knows it, yet the idea does not fill him with joy. He believes in the cause, but Tuesday's testimony from Petraeus and Crocker seemed to make McCain more dour than usual.
That's a clear sign of sanity and proof McCain is no warmonger, as the Obama camp foolishly charges. He is a patriot who has actually felt the horrors of war. Yet he has the most realistic view of our box because he recognizes the stakes if we carelessly try to escape it.
Iraq is what it is. Five years and counting, 4,000-plus deaths and hundreds of billions of dollars brought us to this unhappy moment where we have progress, but no guarantees it will continue. After all we've done, sacrificed and spent, the country is still up for grabs.
As Petraeus put it, the gains are real, but reversible. "We are where we are," he told the Foreign Relations Committee.
Indeed, he and Crocker seemed absolutely sure of one thing only - our rapid withdrawal would make everything infinitely worse.
It's why Obama, Clinton and McCain all looked as though they'd rather be getting a root canal or out kissing babies. If a Senate hearing can have a personality, this one suffered from depression.
To their credit, Petraeus and Crocker dispensed with the sunny predictions that destroyed the credibility of some of their predecessors. And the three candidates, er, senators, refrained from the partisan grandstanding that has marred previous hearings.
There was none of the "General Betray-us" smear, and Clinton did not repeat the mistake of suggesting the general was a liar. After her Bosnia sniper fiction, how could she?
The idealism, the defiance - it's all gone, replaced by a sober acceptance of the grim facts. Iraq has worn everybody out, defeating the best and worst intentions Washington can muster.
Meanwhile, Iran said Tuesday it is making rapid progress on plans to enrich uranium. With the feckless United Nations content to wag its finger as another madman marches toward nuclear arms, count Iran's announcement as the worst bad news of the day.