Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Hostilities force Bush into deep hole
Meanwhile, traditional conservatives who see American interests in the Middle East as focused on a regular supply of oil are anxious because it has pulled its troops out of one big producer, Saudi Arabia, without establishing a sustainable military presence in another, Iraq.
"Anyway you look at this, outside the most extreme optimistic assessments, we end up weaker," a senior Republican international strategist said.
The conservatives' growing awareness that failure may be imminent has generated a backlash against the more radical "neo-conservatives" such as Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith at the Pentagon, who are blamed for persuading President Bush that an invasion would be relatively easy.
Anthony Cordesman, a military scholar at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said the most serious problem in US government was "the fact that a small group of neo-conservative ideologues were able to substitute their illusions for an effective planning effort by professionals".