The President's initiative in the Middle East has never been a sure thing. But I have argued, and still believe, that it was a calculated risk worth taking and continues to be a calculated risk worth supporting. But what if it does not work? What are our options, if for whatever reasons, the attempt to remake the Middle East fails?

Some background: why is it so important that our project for "renewal in Iraq" and beyond succeed? After 9/11, it was apparent to any observer that the status quo in the Middle East was no longer tenable for the United States. Our Cold-War era, "pragmatic" policy of accommodating and facilitating tyrannical regimes, for reasons of vital national interest, wrought a generation of jihadists intent on Islamic revolution. The Islamists hated their own exploitative and corrupt governments, they hated Israel, and they hated us for enabling the two primary objects of their enmity. 9/11 illustrated in the most horrific manner that our great island fortress could be penetrated by these jihadists, and likely would be again. America was under attack.

The project to remake the Middle East into a more just and safer place for its own people, and more friendly in general to the United States and the rest of Western civilization, was an attempt to "drain the swamp." A freer, more democratic Middle East, so the theory went, would take responsibility for itself and be consumed with self-improvement, looking inward instead of outward, which would drastically reduce the threat of terrorism. We would become brothers, bonded by our mutual love for self-determination, amelioration and peace.

Frankly, the Bush administration vastly underestimated how hard this would be. While some academics tossed around the Philippine precedent and laid out timetables of four, five, six years and beyond, I do not think that is what Washington believed. I fear that the Bush administration really thought, with a little luck, this thing might go fairly quickly and easily, and then we could move on to the next outlaw. We did not fully understand the challenge. Perhaps that was a blessing. In any event, to the surprise of some, we encountered a great battle in Iraq. But that doesn't mean that we are cooked. We need to stay tough and win. Iraq is the key. If we can stabilize Iraq, our aspiration for a safer Middle East is well on the way to success.

What happens if Iraq never gets better, and circumstances force the US to abandon the project to reform the Middle East? Are we back to square one? No. If we leave Iraq in defeat and disarray, we are actually much worse off than we were the day after 9/11. The world will no longer be a safe place for Americans to travel or do business. What will that mean? It will inaugurate a radical transformation of American life.

I have never accepted the President's explanation that the Islamists hate us because of our liberty (at least not in the commonly accepted sense of that word). That is, I don't believe that the jihadists' detestation for our freedom impels them to go out of their way to kill us. Osama doesn't hate us because we are free; he hates us because we are powerful and play a dominant role in his world.

Undoubtedly, Osama et al view American culture as corrupt and corrosive, and they are right (see Part I). If the President means liberty in the libertine sense, then maybe he touches on part of what Osama and his ilk have against us. But that in itself does not explain the existence of al Qaeda.

The complicated terror network organized to humble the United States exists to break the American hegemony on their side of the world so that the jihadists can foment a revolution over there unhindered. In that way too, 9/11 is similar to Pearl Harbor: Japan attempted to obliterate the US naval presence in the Pacific not to conquer the United States, but to give Japan free reign to conquer the Pacific. Like our presence in the Pacific during the 1930s and 40s, we have myriad self-interested reasons to be in the Middle East, but we also play a stabilizing role in the region.

To an extent, and there is deep irony here for the neo-traditionalists, this project is a war to make the world safe for economic globalization. Some of the least imaginative of the anti-war protesters have called Iraq a "war for oil." Three-dollar per gallon gas takes a bit of the wind out of that conspiracy slogan, but it survives nevertheless. But in truth, our mission to remake the Middle East is consistent with American policy since the dawning of American imperialism: we strive for influence and power in the world in order to protect American business interests.

Can we do something that will make the Islamists leave us alone? Yes. We can pack up and go home. We can fold our tent and leave the Middle East to the Arabs. In the early moments of the national crisis following 9/11, I believed that the safest course would be complete retreat, a return to isolationism. President Bush offered a different course, which was bold and risky, but, if successful, preserves our way of life. I credit him for his strength and courage in that moment, and I have supported him completely.

However, if Bushism does not work, returning to the pre-9/11 realities is not an option. The remaining option is Buchanism: neo-isolationism. We will leave our friends in the Middle East to fend for themselves, and pull-up stakes as the key player in, and international protector of, the global economy. Failure will force us into an involuntary retreat.

Therefore, if we fail in Iraq, we leave American business interests in the Middle East unprotected and irresistible targets for Islamist revolutionaries. If our ability to protect our interests abroad collapses, then our economic empire necessarily disintegrates as well.

What then?

We turn the clock back one hundred years and return to the insular republic of the nineteenth century. It will mean that our culture will need fewer academics, poets, entertainers and service providers. More of us will need to work for a living, making things and growing things. Our lives will change dramatically.