What to do?

That is the question we face in Iraq. I am glad I am not in a position to decide.

My first impulse would be: Let's pour in troops, settle things down, get rid of the bad guys and try to get the country back on its feet.

That is simply not possible without reinstituting the draft, a political impossibility right now. We only have about 20,000 troops to send in. In a country of 26 million, I somehow doubt that will tilt the scales.

Our peak level of troops in Vietnam was 537,000 in 1968. Vietnam had a larger population than Iraq by about double at the time, although it was geographically smaller. In any case, the half-million troops weren't able conclude matters in Vietnam. We lost over 50,000 troops before pulling out. Would it really be wise to commit 500,000 troops in Iraq even if we had them available? I think not.

The other option is to pull out and blame the Iraqis for not being able to take advantage of our deposing of Saddam Hussien. I find that option to be cowardly and irresponsible. We promised stability and democracy. Pulling out would leave the Iraqis who believed us in the lurch.

Nobody has a solution right now. Nothing sounds right. Perhaps somebody will find one. We can only hope. But in the meantime, we can evaluate the lessons learned:

1) A relatively stable state run by a ruthless, crazy, evil dictator may be preferable to a stateless anarchy which might spread throughout the region.

2) It is not easy to transplant American democracy overseas, especially in a country divided by religious and ethnic hatred. When you have people willing to kill each other on a mass scale, democratic institutions cease to work.

3) We shouldn't get into conflicts until the American people are completely on board. Roosevelt wanted to enter World War II long before Pearl Harbor, but it took Pearl Harbor to get the American people up in arms enough to fight. Accusations that Roosevelt knew about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor before it happened and did nothing haven't been proven. That doesn't meant that Roosevelt wasn't glad it happened. Churchill, for his part, was absolutely ecstatic. After Pearl Harbor, he knew victory was inevitable: America, with its manpower and industrial might, was in it with both feet.

Waiting for consensus necessarily means that democracies are going to be slow to respond to threats. That has always been the case. A leader can lead, but if he or she gets out too far in front of the pack, the pack might just go another direction and leave him stranded--as stranded as Lyndon Johnson was in 1968, and as stranded as Richard Nixon felt after his escalation of the Vietnam war didn't result in conclusive victory.