Regardless of whether the United States was justified in invading Iraq, two things argue strongly for the military to stay there until the region is stabilized. The first is that Iraq has become a center for terrorists who are certain to overwhelm the fledgling Iraqi government if coalition forces leave. The second is that those terrorists have not tempered their hatred toward the United States and the West one bit, as witnessed by the recent foiled plot to blow up several airliners at once.

Some people are arguing for an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the region, which would be an invitation to certain disaster, both in Iraq and here. Others argue more reasonably for a phased withdrawal and a change in the U.S. mission in Iraq, focusing solely on counterterrorism. But this, too, is a premature suggestion. Eventually, such a withdrawal ought to occur, but this is not the time for it.

President Bush is not an articulate spokesman for his policies, nor has he waged a well-defined mission to establish peace. However, it is difficult to argue with his contention, repeated again at a news conference earlier this week, that failure in Iraq would have disastrous consequences. Iraq faces tremendous pressure from ethnic forces within, as well as from extremist forces both within and outside the country. Those forces would see a premature U.S. withdrawal as creating a power vacuum that they would try to seize by force.

The president was right, as well, when he said the war is "straining the psyche of our country." At the moment, it is difficult to see any real progress, but that should not lead the nation to give up.

His opponents can argue ad nauseam that the president started this war under false pretenses. Not only is this wrong, it is irrelevant. It is true that Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction, but U.S. intelligence agents, as well as those in many other countries, believed at the time that he did. Evidence obtained after Saddam's capture has shed light on how he carried out this deception.

In any event, the nation can't turn back the clock and undo the war, nor would it be a good thing to still have Saddam in power. The task at hand is to keep Iraq from failing, which would make all other problems in the world, from Iran to North Korea and beyond, considerably more difficult to handle.