On November 8, America changed directions politically. Already, a split power structure is unfolding in Washington and the focus is on Iraq. Soon, the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group will make their recommendations and the President’s own review team also deliberates about their future plans. But before any “new” course of action can be realistically implemented, we need to step back and examine how and why we got to where we are in Iraq today.

Before we decided to end the “no-war/no-peace” situation in Iraq in March 2003, prevailing world opinion held that Saddam was lying about his weapons program. Intelligence services from various countries knew that Saddam was in constant contact with terrorist groups residing in Baghdad: whenever necessary, he could and would sell his weapons of mass destruction (or the know how for building them) to the highest bidder. The sanctions regime was a miserable failure– the Iraqi middle class was almost extinct and babies died in droves due to malnutrition.

Given this situation, Congress (including many Democrats) gave the President authority to go to war.

After a short fight, Baghdad was taken. The U.S. found itself occupying a large country with porous borders. Soon, it became apparent that Coalition forces were facing an organized, sophisticated insurgency fueled primarily by Saddam’s loyalists and a motley collection of Arab and Muslim terrorists recruited by al Qaeda cells in Arab and European countries.

As the “insurgency” continued, Saddam was captured in a rat hole and put on trial by his own countrymen for crimes against humanity. His sons, notorious rapists and torturers, were killed. Iraq approved a permanent constitution and held three full and fair elections. For the first time in recent history, a freely elected government and parliament are beginning to assert their power and to plan for a future, peaceful Iraq.

So what went wrong?

After 9/11, the Bush administration courageously formulated a revolutionary vision for the Middle East: democratic regimes will likely concentrate on the welfare of the people who elected them, rather than engaging in foreign adventures. The best way to protect America is to realize the potential for democracy in the Middle East.

America’s enemies quickly, however, turned that formula on its head attempting to thwart a successful transition to representative regimes in Iraq or Afghanistan. They realized that if the Iraqi venture succeeded in the heart of the Muslim world, the example set for the downtrodden masses would be powerful enough to scuttle the entire political structure of the region and create an inevitable momentum for change.

So the terrorist cells, the totalitarian regimes of Syria and Iran, and the Saddam loyalists, each for their own end, began sabotaging the democratic experiment in Iraq. Casualties inflicted on American troops, beheadings of hostages, daily attacks on the oil industry’s infrastructure and electrical grid, all contributed to a concerted campaign to influence, above all, American public opinion. Soon, radical leftist voices demanding an immediate end to the war were joined by respected politicians, such as Reps. Murtha and Pelosi. As Americans jumped on the immediate pullout bandwagon, their collective voices ultimately led to Republican defeat on November 8.

So, what now? The errors of the past three years, the delays in reconstituting a viable Iraqi security force, and the enormous sacrifices made by Americana and Iraqis, all may argue for an early “redeployment” of American troops– a euphemism for withdrawal or worse, surrender. However, now that Democrats share power and responsibility, they must realize that an abrupt withdrawal will undermine America’s and Iraq’s security interests–the stakes are just that high. As al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq boasted: “The enemy is now wobbly. Today they are loading their gear to flee.”

It is tempting to ignore al Qaeda statements, as we did before 9/11. It is tempting to listen to well-meaning political advisors and just ask Iraq’s neighbors to help get us out of this “quagmire.”

But is it too much to ask the new Congress, the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, and the President’s new team to adhere to America’s principles and its promise of a better future for countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is the only defense we have from the enemies of modern civilization? A bipartisan approach, an inclusive American approach, can still implement practical steps to correct errors but still remain committed to the only outcome the United States can afford in Iraq: a stable, democratic government in charge of their own security.