There is always much about the future that is obscure, but of one thing we can be reasonably certain: In 2008, the United States will be involved militarily in Iraq. It may be a largely peaceful involvement, centering on the military occupation of key areas, or it may have a major combat component, depending on the enemy's capability and intentions, but that America will be there, there is no doubt at all.
The occasional politician demanding prompt and total withdrawal from Iraq is simply fantasizing, and the Democrats know this, as well as the Republicans. Such a withdrawal would merely turn the whole region over to other nations and forces with their own fish to fry. Middle Eastern oil, which the United States itself could do without, is absolutely vital to our allies in Europe and elsewhere. For it to fall into the hands of Russia, or some consortium of regional powers, would alter the whole balance of global power overnight.
Similar considerations will dominate America's Middle Eastern policies not only in 2008 but thereafter -- and quite regardless of whether (as seems likely) the Democrats take over the White House in 2009. A Democratic president would undoubtedly make a bigger display of deference to our allies, and perhaps modify this or that aspect of U.S. policy in the Mideast, but he or she would know very well that a U.S. presence in the Middle East is an indispensable factor in the diplomatic picture there.
What is harder to assess is whether U.S. involvement will continue to have a major military component. In 2008, the war there may well be winding down. Al Qaeda no longer has (if it ever had) the capability to be a centrally directed and militarily effective force. It may still occupy individual towns, and put to death hundreds or even thousands of civilian Iraqis. But U.S. forces effectively dominate the country, and will continue to do so.
Beyond 2008, however, the United States must make a major effort to shift the battle more decisively into a political context. As the military weakness of Al Qaeda becomes more apparent, the politicians in Baghdad must be pressed even more strongly to come to political terms among themselves. This has been said before, but the urgency increases daily.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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