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Although Iraq war has been majorly mismanaged, U.S. still has stake in success

The eerie Kabuki dance that is Iraq is about to enter a new phase where is the only certainty. The Democratic Party is hellbent on pulling out of the desert killing fields, while the Bush administration is trying to buy time with an aggressive push against the murderous insurgents.

Polls show that most Americans are sick of the entire mess, and the left is capitalizing on the disenchantment. There is no question the war has been mismanaged and the Iraqi government is corrupt and cowardly.

But the stakes in Iraq are enormous, and that point has been consistently hidden from the American public by media that despise the Bush administration and are openly rooting for a Democratic president in 2008.

The cold truth is that Iran will dominate Iraq if the U.S. withdraws. That dominance will lead to increased terror activity against American interests not only in the Persian Gulf region but also around the world.

Iran's goal is to humiliate America and establish a powerful Shiite juggernaut that will target Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States itself. Using terror surrogates trained and armed inside Iraq, Iran will unleash them all over the world. Chaos doesn't even begin to cover it.

There is little difference between al-Qaida and the mullahs who call the shots in Iran. Both groups want to annihilate Westerners and Jews. This is not a secret. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delights in stating his homicidal urges every chance he gets.

But living in relative safety, many Americans simply don't want to hear it. It was the same thing in the late 1930s, when millions of Americans didn't want any part of Hitler or Tojo. It was only after Pearl Harbor that the country rallied against the evil that threatened it.

Sept. 11 was Pearl Harbor II, and for a time, Americans came together to fight the enemy. All of that evaporated, however, in the fog of confusion called Iraq. President Bush and his advisers truly believed the Iraqi people would choose freedom over carnage. They were wrong.

Yes, there are good, brave Iraqis, but not enough of them. Ancient tribal hatreds and terror-for-hire madmen rule the day. The U.S. military has performed magnificently. But no nation can impose order on a population that believes God requires them to murder people.

So what should be done in Iraq? A rapid U.S. pullout would likely result in massive death as the various Muslim sects would try to obliterate each other.

The cut-and-runners don't mention that very much, but the Democrats already have their talking points. If thousands are murdered after the Americans leave, it would be Bush's fault because he got us in there in the first place.

So it's a win-win for the left. They can claim they saved American lives by getting the military out, and if civilians are murdered as a result, they'll put it on Bush and the Republicans. The politics of death are alive and well.

Those of us bright enough to understand the big picture in Iraq know that the U.S. must keep a strong presence there but cannot continue to support a corrupt government.

So a new defensive strategy must be put in place. Protect Iraq against an Iranian incursion but increasingly let the Iraqis manage their day-to-day problems. By March, Americans will have sacrificed for five years in this place. That's more than enough time for the Iraqis to step up.

Finally, all Americans should listen very closely to what the presidential candidates say about Iraq.

The next president will have to manage this problem, and if he or she makes a mistake it could lead to worldwide catastrophe.

That's how intense this whole thing is.

Veteran TV news anchor and author Bill O'Reilly is a host on Fox News.