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Though often put into technical terms, the issue is not the mechanics of withdrawal. Rather the debate should be over consequences – whether, in the end, withdrawal will be perceived as a forced retreat or as an aspect of a prudent and carefully planned move on behalf of international security.

Whatever one’s view of the decision to undertake the Iraq war, the method by which it was entered, or the strategy by which it was conducted – and I supported the original decision – one must be clear about the consequences of failure. If, when we go, we leave nothing behind but a failed state and chaos, the consequences will be disastrous for the region and for America’s position in the world.

For the jihad phenomenon is more than the sum of individual terrorist acts extending from Bali through Jakarta, to New Delhi, Tunisia, Riyadh, Istanbul, Casablanca, Madrid and London. It is an ideological outpouring comparable to the early days of Islam by which Islam’s radical wing seeks to sweep away secularism, pluralistic values and Western institutions wherever Muslims live.

Its dynamism is fueled by the conviction that the designated victims are on the decline and lacking the will to resist. Any event that seems to confirm these convictions compounds the revolutionary dynamism. If a fundamentalist regime is installed in Baghdad or in any of the other major cities, such as Mosul or Basra, if terrorists secure substantial territory for training and sanctuaries, or if chaos and civil war mark the end of the American intervention, jihadists would gain momentum wherever there are significant Islamic populations or nonfundamentalist Islamic governments. No country within reach of jihad would be spared the consequences of the resulting upheavals sparked by the many individual centers of fanaticism that make up the jihad.

Defeat would shrivel American credibility around the world. Our leadership and the respect accorded to our views on other regional issues from Palestine to Iran would be weakened; the confidence of other major countries – China, Russia, Europe, Japan – in America’s potential contribution would be diminished. The respite from military efforts would be brief before even vaster crises descend on us. Critics must face the fact that a disastrous outcome is defined by the global consequences, not domestic rhetoric. Similarly, the administration will ultimately be judged by results, not plans.

President Bush has put forward a plausible strategy. It acknowledges that mistakes have been made and affirms that policy has been leavened by experience. But the crescendo of demands for a fixed timetable suppresses the quality of patience that history teaches is the prerequisite for overcoming guerrilla warfare. Even an appropriate strategy can be vitiated by being executed in a too precipitate manner.

The views of critics and administration spokesmen converge on the proposition that as Iraqi units are trained, they should replace American forces – hence the controversy over which Iraqi units are in what state of readiness. But strategy based on substituting Iraqi for American troops may result in confirming an unsatisfactory stalemate. Even assuming that the training proceeds as scheduled and produces units the equivalent of the American forces being replaced – a highly dubious proposition – I would question the premise that American reductions should be in a linear relationship to Iraqi training. A design for simply maintaining the present unsatisfactory security situation runs the risk of confirming the adage that guerrillas win if they do not lose.

Politics Henry Kissinger Talks Iraq Exit