Even Colin Powell admits the situation in Iraq is getting worse. And more are re-thinking what we must willing to accept to get out of there.

The one thing Americans agree on is that terrorism remains a real threat. The reason so many still support our present action in Iraq may be as simple as this: There’s no other anti-terrorist activity in play. This leads to a sort of willful illogic: We must support what’s happening in Iraq, even though we believe it isn’t helping and may even be making us more vulnerable to terrorist attack, because otherwise we’d be doing nothing about terrorism.

We need to change the conversation. First, our goals for Iraq itself must be scaled back. No more insistence on Western-style secular democracy. We must acknowledge the unlikelihood of a politically stable Iraq in which Islamic clergy don’t play a major role. It may be all we can hope for just to forestall civil war.

And even that modest goal can’t be met by our reliance on military might. Our very presence in Iraq — militarily and commercially — is provocative. The most dangerous thing for an Iraqi these days is to be seen as cooperating with us. The new conversation must be about how to achieve stability, not how we can forcibly pacify the place. This suggests more reliance on international diplomacy than the Bush administration seems comfortable with, and it might even suggest the possibility of conversations between Western and Iraqi clergy.

Columnist Bill Raspberry thinks Daniel Yankelovich has the right approach.

Yankelovich, co-founder and chairman of Public Agenda, said a half-century of observing social and political movements has led him to believe that all successful movements have three pillars of support: (1) a small group of committed militants, (2) a large group of moderates who deplore the militants’ tactics but share their grievance and (3) a convenient scapegoat.

“You can’t argue with [al Qaeda militants and their allies],” he said. “They are determined to kill us. We have to deal with them through force and force alone.

“But to address the other two legs, we need an enlightened long-term political strategy to divide the moderates from the jihadists and to remove ourselves from the role of scapegoat.”

And how can Bush win re-election given this piece of news?

…there is this tantalizing bit in a recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll. Though respondents favored Bush by a slight margin, 58 percent said they hoped for “major changes” in a second Bush term, compared with only 9 percent who say they’d like to see a second term that looked like the first one.

Kerry needs to tap into that fear that a second Bush term will be more of the same. If he hammers on this theme, Bush will eventually be asked how his second term would be different and what he thinks were the mistakes of the first term. Could make an interesting question for the debate panelists.

Update: Kevin Drum has another piece of bad news getting worse in Iraq.