Paul Greenberg

"The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid 'dens of crime' that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see (evil's) final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices."

--C.S. Lewis, "The Screwtape Letters"

Call it déjà vu, the feeling that we've been here before, that events in the news are happening again, only with a new cast. This flashback could be titled Iraq Agonistes, except it's no play. It is all too real. For those are real people suffering and dying, and real diplomats and generals, presidents and pundits, senators and senior advisers ... all proudly displaying their gobsmacked ineptitude.

There is something eerily, depressingly familiar about the latest news from the state formerly known as Iraq as this all too familiar tragedy is re-enacted in a different setting with a different suffering people.

The players may have changed, but not the tragedy. Indeed, the plot is so familiar you can almost see the audience yawning and heading for the exits. ("Not this sad show again!") In these fast-moving or rather fast-collapsing days for the "republic" of Iraq, some of us wake up every morning with the idle thought: Is there still an Iraq? And if so, who cares?

All the old, blood-soaked scenes of an earlier performance by the same theatrical company -- let's dub it the Washington Players -- return like a recurrent nightmare: the agony of friends and allies who counted on us only to be abandoned, the innocents caught in the crossfire, the usual parade of mutual atrocities, and a nebulous government whose power and authority is not just eroding but disappearing every day, every hour, every minute. No matter how much its remaining leaders may deny it.

How long before these leaders, too, become former leaders and retreat to their villas in the south of France, and give interviews explaining how right they were all along? Much like Jimmy Carter still trying to justify the malaise he presided over in his now almost forgotten day.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.