Republican presidential candidate John McCain is a firm supporter of the war and has received flak from Democratic candidate Barack Obama for suggesting that Iraq could see the kind of sustained US involvement that continues in Germany and Japan more than a half century after World War II.
Both Senator Obama and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton, speak in terms of a quick withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq. Yet both also leave the door open to continuing to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq and to pursuing other goals such as training Iraqi security forces.
Discounting political rhetoric, Cordesman – who recently returned from a 10-day trip to Iraq and Afghanistan – says a crucial determining factor for Iraq will be the quality of the transition from the Bush presidency to the next. "It will be absolutely critical to have a smooth transfer of plans, resources, command, and action from the current presidency to the next presidency," he says. "If that falters or is inadequate, it could have … devastating consequences."
The Iraq debate will probably zero in on costs versus benefits. Topping the benefits ledger for war advocates is mounting evidence that Al Qaeda in Iraq and affiliated forces are on the run and have been denied much of the terrain they had open access to even a few months ago. That's not only a plus for Iraq, but also for the war on terror, advocates say. Critics, however, continue to insist that the real terrorist threat to the US is in Pakistan, which they say has been neglected as a result of the Bush administration's focus on Iraq.