The debate over the new strategy for Iraq mostly has been between those who regard it as a "last chance" for victory, and those who think the war already is irretrievably lost. About this, two observations:
The first is that we have a much lower threshold for what constitutes defeat than our grandparents did. In the summer of 1942, the Japanese were planning to invade Australia, and German tanks were at the gates of Stalingrad and Cairo. But few then said we should throw in the towel.
Our parents and grandparents realized the fascists we were fighting then were really nasty guys; that living in a world in which they were dominant would be intolerable.
And they realized our country had great strengths, and our enemies had weaknesses. If our strengths could be mobilized, and their weaknesses exploited, victory would be ours.
We did mobilize our strengths. Half our gross domestic product was devoted to the war effort.
Things sure are different now. The death of each soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan is a tragedy, but our casualties are trivial compared to earlier wars. We spend less than 4 percent of GDP on defense.
We have yet to lose a battle in Iraq, and we obviously have many more resources on which we could draw. Yet for most in our elites, it is already too late.
Which leads me to my second observation. Our elites have become so insulated from reality that they imagine America can suffer defeat without inconvenience to themselves. Defeat would be an embarrassment to President Bush, but nothing more.
But the Islamofascists we're fighting now are just as nasty as the fascists our parents and grandparents fought in World War II. They currently are less dangerous than the Nazis were. But that will change if we are foolish enough to permit them to obtain nuclear weapons, or to seize control of the oil-producing regions of the Middle East. Both of these outcomes are likely if Islamic extremists of either stripe take over in Iraq.
If Manhattan disappears in a mushroom cloud, or oil prices hit $200 a barrel, the effects will be felt even in million-dollar homes, and on the campuses of Ivy League universities.
President Bush confessed Wednesday night to having made mistakes in Iraq. We've made mistakes in every war we've ever fought. But in wars past, we corrected them. We didn't give up.
The most serious mistake President Bush made was to become a prisoner of his own rhetoric.
I agree with the president that ultimately the only way to defeat Islamic radicalism is to establish stable democracies in the Middle East. But I wouldn't give car keys to a 10-year-old, or let him buy whiskey.
Our fundamental problem is that the government of Iraq is corrupt and incompetent. The people of Iraq showed great courage by voting despite threats of violence from al-Qaida. But mostly they voted for spineless sectarian creeps like the current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
Because there is now a "sovereign" government in Iraq, the president feels he must defer to it. Each time he does, tragedy results. We capture Shiite death squad members; Mr. Maliki orders their release. We provide funds for reconstruction; they steal them.
What we should have done from the get-go was appoint the man we wanted as prime minister (Iwad Allawi was that guy) and introduced democracy gradually, beginning at the local level, then moving up to the provincial and national levels. You have to walk before you can run.
Instead of begging the Iraqi parliament to share oil revenues fairly, we should have handed them a constitution. Gen. MacArthur wrote the Japanese constitution. That's worked out pretty well.
Such a paternalistic policy would have brought us condemnation from the people who criticize us no matter what we do, but it would have kept Iraq from becoming the mess that it is today.
Because of the mistakes we've made, it will take longer and cost more to win. But we definitely can still win if we stop repeating those mistakes.
It sounded Wednesday night as if President Bush is at long last prepared to light a fire under Mr. Maliki. That's vital, because the troop surge (which would roughly double the number of U.S. troops in Baghdad, where about 80 percent of the violence is taking place) cannot succeed if Mr. Maliki retains veto power over their employment.
If the president is prepared to lean on Mr. Maliki, I think there is a reasonable chance the new strategy will succeed. But if it doesn't work, we should keep trying until we find something that does. Because the only cost we cannot bear is the cost of an Islamofascist victory.