For the hardcore anti-war movement, there is no need to wait and hear what General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has to say when he updates Congress on Iraq on September 15. If in September we learn that drastic changes in the way the war is being fought are having positive results and that there is a reasonable chance of a successful conclusion, they still want out of Iraq. 

Hatred of George Bush or a belief that war is intrinsically wrong or opposition to this particular war-or whatever-combines to make them determined to end the war now, no matter the consequences. Some appear willing to accept a bloodbath in Iraq if we can get our soldiers home sooner rather than later. That is to be expected of the anti-war movement.

But various members of Congress may be wedging themselves into a position where, from a political standpoint, they cannot afford success in Iraq. The heated rhetoric and recent sleepover in Congress have made some war opponents so vociferously and visibly tied with immediate withdrawal-before the Petraeus report, which had been agreed-upon earlier-as to introduce an important new dynamic: victory in Iraq would actually hurt them.

I am not accusing anybody of putting a political career before the good of the country (not that that would be unprecedented). I am simply arguing that the Congress had agreed to give Petraeus a chance with a change in military tactics (he is an expert on fighting insurgencies), and now many are doing and saying things that that make it difficult, if not impossible, to welcome good news from the general. The insistence on pulling out without regard to effect the surge will make it harder to vote to continue. But there could be a surprise beneficiary to their tough new stance: George W. Bush.

Can you imagine what it would do for George Bush’s standing and the next year’s presidential race if he pulled it off in Iraq? Needless to say, Petraeus’s report, no matter what it lays before the Congress, may not persuade those on the Hill now irrevocably tied to withdrawal. It will take the president’s utmost commitment if we are to remain until the job is done. Legacy wise, this can only help, if we achieve what it is beginning to look as if we can do-establish a stable Iraq that is not a safe haven to terrorists.

Whether we remain in Iraq or leave on an artificial timetable mandated by Congress, the price will be steep. If we finish what we started, we will expend blood and treasure; more American service men and women will die in Iraq. There is no way to avoid this terrible toll if we remain in Iraq.

The cost of leaving prematurely is far more terrifying. The New York Times admitted in an editorial calling for withdrawal of troops that genocide in Iraq is a probable cost. New York Times correspondent John Burns (who, by the way, is an excellent reporter of the old school for whom objectivity is a calling, no matter the affiliation) said recently on the Charlie Rose show that if U.S. troops are withdrawn the “levels of violence will eclipse by quite a long way the levels we see now.” Burns called U.S. troops “a very important inhibitor of violence-where American forces are present, they inhibit violence.”

We don’t know exactly what would happen, but we do know that Iraq would become a horror story. Those who stuck out their necks to help the U.S. would have those necks chopped off-not necessarily metaphorically. Nobody would ever trust the U.S. again, and we would not trust ourselves to mount a military campaign. The hangover from a loss in Iraq would be far more devastating than the Vietnam syndrome. “Live with honor, die with honor,” a sign on a Taliban residence read in 2002. Our enemies will know that this not an ethic we share if we pull out in Iraq, and that will embolden them to step up their war against us, a war we would like to ignore and that many among us do ignore.

If we leave Iraq prematurely, it will be not for peace but for the chimera of peace. “Today there is much discussion of the so-called Bush Doctrine and what may follow it,”  writes Robert Kagan. “Many prefer to believe the world is in turmoil not because it is in turmoil but because Bush made it so by destroying the new hopeful era. And when Bush leaves, it can return once again to the way it was. Having glimpsed the mirage once, people naturally want to see it and believe in it again.”

We are in a dangerous situation, and it is made all the more dangerous because many leaders have put themselves in an awkward  position where defeat of the Bush agenda in Iraq is good news.