Paul Greenberg

But this much the advance of freedom in the Land of the Rising Sun has in common with much of recent American history: The experts said it couldn't be done, whether it was winning the Cold War, ending the nuclear arms race, or freeing the captive nations in thrall to an Evil Empire.

Sure enough, the day after Mr. Bush's address to the veterans in Kansas City, The New York Times rolled out the usual bevy of experts to prove the president's historical analogies hopelessly flawed.

Anyway, what about Vietnam, that graveyard of American hopes? Wasn't our defeat there inevitable? Here, too, Mr. Bush challenged conventional assumptions. For history is made by men and the choices men make.

Those who believe we can simply pack up and leave Iraq, perhaps declaring peace with honor as Richard Nixon did in Vietnam, may reap much the same result that president did: defeat with dishonor. This president warned that the carnage and suffering that followed America's defeat in Vietnam might be duplicated on an even larger and more disastrous scale if the United States gave up in Iraq.

Even if this country could withdraw its forces from Iraq at once (a logistical impossibility) the threat from al-Qaida and its various allies would not cease. Indeed, it would be intensified, for Osama bin Laden and far-flung company could again use a failed state as a base of operations, as they once did Afghanistan. The result: Terrorism would be even more of a clear and present danger to our security.

Al-Qaida, and its associates and sympathizers throughout the Islamic world and beyond, understand very well what is at stake in Iraq and Afghanistan - and what a glorious opportunity an American defeat there would give them. Do we?

As the president noted Wednesday in Kansas City, we aren't engaged today in what one expert called a clash of civilizations; it's a struggle for civilization.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.