Cliff May

Contrary to what you’ve read in the newspapers, we are not debating whether to “change course” in Iraq. We are debating whether to accept defeat in Iraq.

Contrary to what you’ve seen on television, there is no way for us to “end the war.” If we retreat from Iraq, the war will not just continue but expand. The only difference is that a battlefield on which we are now killing our enemies will be transformed into a base from which our enemies can safely plan to kill us.

Yes, it’s disappointing that the American-backed government in Baghdad has not yet met its “benchmarks” for enacting political and economic reforms. Iraqi politicians have failed to pass laws dividing oil revenue among the country’s main population groups; excluding fewer Baathists from obtaining government jobs; and scheduling provincial elections in areas where Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are competing for power.

But let’s get serious: Passing such laws is no longer our primary goal in Iraq. What is? Preventing al-Qaeda (and/or Iran’s radical mullahs) from defeating us on what they call the “central front” of the global war being waged against America and the West. Should they beat us in Iraq, they will be seen as giant killers. Recruits will pound on their doors. What would our enemies do next?

No need to guess. Al-Qaeda leaders have vowed that after they “expel the Americans from Iraq” they will launch a "jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq." The National Intelligence Estimate – the collective judgment of the U.S. intelligence community – concurs: In the wake of too-early American withdrawals, al-Qaeda would use its strongholds in Iraq “to plan increased attacks in and outside of Iraq."

Intelligence sources already have seen evidence of a link between the recent British car bomb plots and al-Qaeda in Iraq. If Osama bin Laden’s followers can manage this now, consider what they’d be able to do were U.S. forces to pack up and leave.

The truth is President Bush has changed course in Iraq – belatedly but significantly. We now have a new commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus -- unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He is implementing a very different strategy from that of his predecessors. The first large-scale operational phase, “Phantom Thunder,” began only on June 15th. Among its key components: targeting al-Qaeda hideouts and bomb factories in and around Baghdad.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.