Those who say it's not the central front in the war on terror are in a worse state of denial than they think Bush is in. Of course it's the central front. That it has become so is a valid criticism of Bush, but it's also strong reason for seeing things through. If we pull out precipitously, jihadism will open a franchise in Iraq and gain steam around the world, and the U.S. will be weakened.
Bush's critics claim that democracy promotion was an afterthought, a convenient rebranding of a war gone sour. That's unfair, but even if true, it wouldn't mean liberty isn't at stake. It wouldn't mean that promoting a liberal society in the heart of the Arab and Muslim world wouldn't be in our interest and consistent with our ideals. In war, you sometimes end up having to defend ground you wouldn't have chosen with perfect knowledge beforehand. That's us in Iraq.
According to the conventional script, if I'm not saying "bug out" of Iraq, I'm supposed to say "stay the course." But there's a third option, and, funnily enough, I found it in an old column of mine. (Journalistic taboos be damned!) We should ask the Iraqis to vote on whether U.S. troops should stay.
Polling suggests that they want us to go. But polling absent consequences is a form of protest. With accountability, minds may change and appreciation for the U.S. presence might grow.
If Iraqis voted "stay," we'd have a mandate to do what's necessary to win, and our ideals would be reaffirmed. If they voted "go," our values would also be reaffirmed, and we could leave with honor. And pretty much everyone would have to accept democracy as the only legitimate expression of national will.
Finishing the job is better than leaving a mess. And if we can finish the job, the war won't be remembered as a mistake.