It’s the unstated catch-22 in my post about Mort Kondracke from last week. If the democratically elected government asks you to withdraw when you know withdrawal means ethnic cleansing, what do you do? Years before Bush was elected, Fareed Zakaria identified the potential problem in making democracy a moral centerpiece of America’s foreign policy: democracy is a means, not an end, and all too often it’s a means used to crush liberal values instead of protecting them. Bush and the GOP made a bet that Iraqis, if given the chance, would resist religious prejudices and act in their own self-interest by using democracy as a sword, not a shield. Now, with some experts warning that the country’s on the brink of collapse, with Gates, Adm. Fallon, and Gen. Lute all reportedly skeptical about the surge, and with attacks across the country down only slightly from 164 in February to 149 now, Politico wants to know from Republicans in Congress what they’ll do if the Iraqi parliament springs the catch-22.

Having championed the legitimacy of democratic government for four years (in Iraq at least), they don’t have much choice.

Some key Republican supporters of President Bush’s Iraq war policy said this week that if the Iraqi parliament calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, their position could change dramatically.

“I suspect we would respect their wishes,” said Florida Rep. Adam Putnam, the third-ranking Republican in the House…

On Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on CNN that he was fed up with the Iraqi government and called it a “huge disappointment,” citing the parliament’s failure to pass an oil revenue bill, hold local elections or meet other benchmarks set by the U.S.

Asked about a possible vote on a bill asking U.S. forces to leave, McConnell said: “I want to assure you, if they vote to ask us to leave, we’ll be glad to comply with their request.”…

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), also a strong war supporter, agreed… “Iraq is a sovereign nation. If they were to do that, we’d be happy to allow them,” he said.

In the House, rank and file members echoed Putnam’s willingness to respect an Iraqi vote. “I think that has pretty profound implications,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), a war supporter, said of the possible legislation. “I do respect democracy with all my heart, and I think that will change the equation.”

Maybe the best cause for hope right now is that, the Sadrists’ wilting effort notwithstanding, parliament hasn’t asked us to leave yet. Both sides have a motive to do so — the Shia themselves, to begin the cleansing in earnest, and the intractable, idiot Sunnis, who’ve spent years now inciting the majority and yet still chafe at the American presence despite the fact that they have more fear to from Iran than from us (a fact they may be starting to recognize). If the media’s right about both sides spoiling for a civil war, it seems odd that they haven’t played their democracy trump card yet and formally asked us to leave.

Meanwhile, Bush is looking for support wherever he can get it, including by meeting with Blue Dog Democrats. It didn’t go so well.