The purpose of organizations and associations is to protect insiders from the consequences of incompetence, which is why socialism is worse than big business, and the one-party system is worse than the two-party system. One of the drawbacks of the two-party system, though, is that once one of the parties commits itself to defending obvious stupidity, it cannot back itself out of the trap without sacrificing the reputation of some prominent members. It took the Republicans twenty years to recover from their commitment to Herbert Hoover’s stupid economics, and it took the Democrats twelve years to recover from Jimmy Carter’s defeatism.

The obvious, stupid error from which the Republicans cannot recover is the presumption that America could determine the political evolution of Iraq. Now that the Iranian-backed Sadrists have pushed their way into the Maliki government, American influence has fallen to a seven-year nadir. My friends at the National Review are alarmed at this, and want to blame the Obama administration for failing to take advantage of the wonderful position established by the last administration. It’s the sort of bloviating that the late William F. Buckley used to puncture with one pointed word.

NRO writes today:

If President Obama is “out of Afghanistan psychologically,” as Bob Woodward reports in his new book, one can only imagine how thoroughly detached he is from Iraq.

He should start paying some attention. The news last week that the Sadrists have thrown their weight behind Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, putting him on the verge of securing a governing coalition, isclose to the worst possible outcome of the Iraqi election and the aftermath.

First, it would marginalize Iraqiya, the party that won a plurality and has the most appeal to the Sunnis we want to feel vested in the new Iraqi state, lest they return to insurgency and al-Qaeda. Worse, it would do it on the strength of the support of Moqtada al-Sadr, a rabidly anti-American cleric closely allied with Iran, whose price for supporting Maliki is likely to include control of key ministries in the next government. The last time the Sadrists were given a measure of control over the instruments of state, they transformed them into tools to wage sectarian war against the Sunnis.

“There are obviously limits to our control of Iraqi politics,” NRO’s editors concede,  ”but we should be using every possible instrument of persuasion to forestall the creation of a government that could be the predicate for renewed ethnic conflict.”

I began writing the “Spengler” columns at Asia Times Online because my conservative friends were locked into a sort of right-wing social engineering, and authentically believed that Iraq could be transformed into a pro-American democracy. After a trillion dollars and 4,000 lives, it is difficult for conservatives to concede that the whole exercise was ill-advised to begin with. Better, they believe, to blame the outcome on Obama, on whose watch the ugly denouement will proceed. I doubt the voters will take this seriously; they voted for Obama in the first place in part because they didn’t believe in the Bush administration’s effort.

As my friend Daniel Pipes has argued for years, the best approach to contentious and threatening Muslim countries is containment. Shut them off. Control the movement of goods, money and people carefully (with a fraction of the resources required for occupation) and if they do something truly threatening, use military power—but without taking ownership of their political mess.