Charles Krauthammer

WASHINGTON -- As the Democrats turn themselves into the anti-war party, as popular support for the war continues to sink, as some who initially signed on to the war now heap scorn on the entire Iraqi project, the question of immediate withdrawal must be confronted.

There are two rationales for withdrawing from -- let's be honest: abandoning -- Iraq: (a) Iraq is not worth it, and (b) worth it or not, the cause is lost.

The first rationale was articulated most recently by John Kerry: ``Iraq is not the center of the war on terror. The president keeps saying it is. The president keeps trying to push that down America's throat. It's wrong, it's a mistake and it's losing us the ability to do what we need to do in the region.''

We might come out of this with an independent Kurdistan that could be a base for U.S. military power, but it would be a shrunken presence in a roiling area, a tragically small consolation prize.

One can argue that we should therefore have left Saddam in place. That assumes a stable and benign status quo ante. Both assumptions are false. But assume for a moment that the critics are right. That's the argument that should have been made -- that Kerry should have made -- four years ago, before he voted yes, before he voted no, before he voted yes on the war. At this point, it is simply indisputable that the collapse of Iraq's constitutional government would represent an enormous gain for the forces of terror.

The other rationale for withdrawal is that the war is lost and therefore it is unconscionable to make one more American soldier die for a cause that cannot be salvaged.

It is a serious argument from which we have been distracted during the last several months by the increasingly absurd debate over the meaning of the term ``civil war,'' and whether Iraq is in one.

Of course it is. It began when the Sunni minority, unwilling to accept the finality of the Baathist defeat, began making indiscriminate war on the Kurdish-Shiite majority that had inherited the country as a result of the U.S. invasion.

Iraq is not Spain in the 1930s or America in the 1860s, but whether the phrase ``civil war'' is to be used is irrelevant. The relevant question is, can we still win, meaning can we leave behind a functioning, self-sustaining, Western-friendly constitutional government?

And that depends on whether the government of Nouri al-Maliki can face up to its two potentially mortal threats: the Sunni insurgency and the challenge from Moqtada al-Sadr.

Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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