by Robert Herold & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & ppearing in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs are two must-read companion articles. In the first, James Fearon, a Stanford University political scientist, observes that while the White House remains in a state of denial, the civil war in Iraq has begun. (Actually, he says, it began some time ago.) Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, follows Fearon's piece with an article that argues America should be seeking d & eacute;tente with Iran, not regime change.

Not only is the civil war in Iraq underway, but Fearon claims there's nothing the United States can do to stop it. If the history of civil wars is any guide (and Fearon thinks it is), we can expect "ethnic cleansing" for some time to come, followed by a victory by one side or the other. Civil wars of the type we see now unfolding in Iraq, according to Fearon, typically last from 7 to 10 years. The civil war in Iraq began when mostly Sunni urban guerrillas, fearing that Iraq would come under Shiite rule -- likely to be as oppressive as the former Sunni rule -- sought to drive out the U.S. and reestablish Sunni control.

Fearon argues that for all the reasons above, neither a U.S.-contrived Shiite government, nor a hard-won Sunni government serves the interests of the United States, nor, for that matter, the stability of the region.

And it's at this point in his essay that a strategy begins to emerge. Fearon believes that if we can accept the reality of a civil war, we could move to rationally calculate the interests of all parties, both inside and outside Iraq.

Then, through skillful bargaining and negotiation with all parties, some semblance of a stable government might have a chance to emerge -- but not on terms preferred by the Bush administration. To succeed, we have no choice but to start down this path.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he hard pill to swallow for Bush, Cheney and all the other architects of this most unfortunate and damaging invasion will be the admission that we now face not a "war on terror" but a civil war that's out of our control. Moreover, Bush would have to finally face up to the terrible fact that his actions have so far caused the deaths of more than 60,000 Iraqis and several thousand Americans, with many more thousands still to die and be disabled.

Ray Takeyh doesn't mince words over the disaster that Bush has brewed: "Over five years after the Bush administration vowed to transform the Middle East, the region is indeed profoundly different. Washington's misadventures in Iraq, the humbling of Israeli power in Lebanon, the rise of the once-marginalized Shiites, and the ascendancy of Islamist parties have pushed the Middle East to the brink of chaos." So much for creating a more stable Middle East.

No matter what the talking points tell Bush, we cannot reasonably expect the Iranian Islamists to go away. Nor can we expect the Sunnis and Shiites to break bread any time soon. Both Fearon and Takeyh believe, however, that the U.S. shares interests with the major warring parties in Iraq as well as with Iran and Syria. But because of the Bush administration's altogether ham-handed approach to diplomacy, mutual concerns and interests have not yet been explored. Both writers urge -- as the Iraq Study Group did earlier this year -- that such an exploration should begin before things really start getting out of hand.

And what would "getting out of hand" look like? Well, if the Shiites did win the civil war and dictate the terms of peace, the Sunni world would rally to the Sunni cause in Iraq, which likely could even include supporting al Qaeda. On the other hand, if the Sunni insurgents regained control, we could expect to see a repeat of the harsh repression associated with Saddam Hussein's regime. Fearon argues that neither the Iranians nor the Syrians want an extended period of chaos.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n the meantime, we continue to hear Congressman John Murtha warn and warn again about how the U.S. military is now running on fumes. His proposal that Bush certify the readiness of any additional forces being sent to Iraq is more than a bluff; it is a shot across the bow. Moreover, he wants the military to pledge an end to its "stop loss" practice, which extends and extends and extends again tours of duty in Iraq. Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace has warned that if "stop loss" is not permitted, the number of active brigades in Iraq will drop precipitously. Pace's response only serves to make Murtha's point: The president is undertaking a "surge" with troops who are not ready to fight, while continuing to hold hostage more troops who have already fought and need to come home.

Bush, of course, admits to doing none of the above. But then, only a few weeks ago he was refusing to talk directly with Iran and Syria. Now talking is OK, and he covers his change in course with what amounts to a tactical non-denial denial. Like Humpty Dumpty, he simply refuses to acknowledge any change in policy: "Words mean what I say they mean, nothing more nor nothing less."

But to move on the Fearon and Takeyh strategy, our failed president likely will need more than a tactical out. He will need someone to provide him the ultimate dodge: a non-mea culpa mea culpa. The sooner the better. Before things really get out of hand.

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