If Gen. David Petraeus can't stabilize Iraq by autumn - or if Americans decide to pull out of Iraq before he gets a fair chance - expect far worse chaos eventually to follow. We will see ethnic cleansing, mass murder of Iraqi reformers, Kurdistan threatened, emerging Turkish-, Iranian-, and Wahhabi-controlled rump states, and al-Qaida emboldened as American military prestige is ruined.
And then what new American Middle East policy would arise from the ashes of Iraq?
Past presidents and statesmen as diverse as Madeleine Albright, James Baker, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Brent Scowcroft have weighed in with various remedies to our supposed blunders in the Middle East since September 11.
Apparently, Americans are supposed to forget these supposedly brilliant strategists' dismal records of dealing with Middle East terrorism, Islamic radicalism and murderous dictators. However, their three decades of bipartisan failure helped bring us to the present post-9/11 world.
So before the United States abandons its present policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, we should at least recall the past record - which may be best summed up as the ying of Democratic appeasement and the yang of Republican cynicism.
Jimmy Carter now writes books damning our present policies. He should keep quiet. When the Iranians stormed the American embassy in Tehran and inaugurated this era of Islamic terrorism, his U.N. ambassador, Andrew Young, announced that the murderous Ayatollah Khomeini was "a 20th century saint." Moralist Carter himself also tried to send hardcore leftist Ramsey Clark over to Tehran to beg the mullahs to release the hostages - in exchange for arms sales.
Next came Ronald Reagan, who, to put it kindly, was bewildered by Islamic extremism. He pulled out American troops from Lebanon after Hezbollah murdered 241 marines and thereby helped to energize a new terrorist movement that has spread havoc ever since.
The Lebanon retreat was followed by the disgrace of the Iran-Contra affair, when American agents sold the hostage-taking theocracy missiles and then used the receipts illegally to fund the Contras. Few now remember that Oliver North purportedly flew to Iran to seal the deal, bearing gifts for the ayatollah. No need to mention the intelligence the Reagan administration gave to Saddam Hussein during the savage Iran-Iraq war, or the way it continued Carter's policy of arming jihadists in Afghanistan.