A tall, imposing man of 75, Thomas Pickering is a veteran of the US foreign-policy scene.
He served as an ambassador in the Middle East, in Russia and at the United Nations, eventually becoming under-secretary of state during the Clinton years.
His assessment of Iraq is grim.
A civil war is under way in which Americans find themselves "partners, players and victims".
Mr Pickering faults Democrats and Republicans alike for their obsession with troop numbers, when the real issue, he says, is Iraqi governance.
To withdraw leaving Iraq fragile and fragmented would invite the neighbours to become increasingly involved, he says.
Right now, he adds, "the underlying energy seems to be for further self-destruction".
Ahead of a mid-September deadline, when there will be a serious review of whether the current strategy is working, Iraq is a topic of hot debate
At its worst, says Jon Alterman of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, the debate has been more about who to blame than what to do.
The Democrats find it easier to blame the Bush administration than come up with an alternative policy.
The administration blames Iran and al-Qaeda.
One shift under way, says Mr Alterman, is towards a more self-centred policy.
"Americans are losing interest in what Iraqis want," he says.
The pressures on President George W Bush to change course are intense, and after mid-September may become irresistible.
There is much talk of a Plan B.
David Ignatius of the Washington Post says that, by the spring, the US military will find the current number of troops in Iraq unsustainable.
He believes that US Defence Secretary Robert Gates wants a symbolic reduction in numbers this year.
The hope, presumably, is that this would ease the pressure on the military and take some of the political heat out of the issue.
In Washington, the credibility of the beleaguered Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki, is at a low ebb.
He is seen as too weak, too sectarian, too close to Iran.
Mr Pickering wants to see a more vigorous diplomatic effort to shore up Iraq and prevent its collapse.
That means drawing all the neighbours into an agreed security framework.
It may also mean an enhanced role for the UN - something that has now been embodied in a new UN Security Council resolution.
Has Iraq already passed the point of no return?
Mr Pickering leaves the question hanging in the air
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