Should a peace candidate win the American presidency in 2008, prompting the U.S. to pull out of Iraq before the democracy there is stabilized, in the short term we will save lives and money. But as the larger war continues after we withdraw, jihadists will still flock to the Sunni Triangle. Hamas and Hezbollah will still rocket Israel. Syria will still kill Lebanese reformers. Iran will still try to cheat its way to a nuclear bomb. Ayman al- Zawahiri will still broadcast his al-Qaida threats from safety in nuclear Pakistan. The oil-rich, illegitimate Gulf sheikdoms will still make secret concessions and bribe increasingly confident terrorists to leave them alone. And jihadists will still try to sneak into the United States to kill us.
Critics of the present war can make the tactical argument that it is wiser to fight al-Qaida in Pakistan than in Iraq. Or that money spent in the frontline Iraqi offensive theater would be better invested on defense and security at home. Or that the human cost is simply too great and thus we should instead make diplomatic concessions to radical Islamists in lieu of military confrontation.
But, again, those are operational alternatives found in every war — as familiar as the old controversies over the French defensive Maginot Line of the 1930s or the American decision to defeat Germany first, Japan second. In the case of staying on in Iraq, at least, our long-term plan is to go on the offensive to confront radical Islamic terrorists on their own turf, and try to foster a democratic alternative to theocracy or autocracy.
That may be felt by the American public to be too expensive or too naive, but it is a direct strategy aimed at an enemy who seeks to terrorize the West and plans on being around well after 2008.
Depending on how we leave Iraq, this global war against radical Islamic terrorism will either wax or wane. But it will hardly end.