In 2004 the United States was faced with a choice between repudiating the Iraq war and “staying the course” – between John Kerry and George W. Bush.  At the time it was unclear what that choice entailed – certainly Kerry tried to defuse concerns that he would abandon Iraq.

“I fear that in the run-up to the 2004 election the administration is considering what is tantamount to a cut-and-run strategy,” Kerry said in remarks prepared for delivery to the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Massachusetts senator accused Bush and his aides of a “sudden embrace of accelerated Iraqification and American troop withdrawal without adequate stability,” which he called “an invitation to failure.”

But given his vague rhetoric, Kerry’s criticism of the war had to lead people to believe that he was more likely to withdraw.  And so, in some part, the 2004 election became a referendum on whether or not we should remain in Iraq.

If we had thought that Bush would remain in Iraq, we were right.  If we had thought that Kerry would soon want to withdraw, we were also right.

“The way forward in Iraq is not to pull out precipitously or merely promise to stay ‘as long as it takes,’ ” Kerry said during an address at Georgetown University. “We must instead simultaneously pursue both a political settlement and the withdrawal of American combat forces.”

Under Kerry’s plan, the first wave of U.S soldiers would leave after Iraq’s planned Dec. 15 parliamentary elections, with the “bulk of American combat forces” withdrawn by the end of 2006.

And if President Bush thought that continued American efforts in Iraq could eventually bring stability, he may have been right too.

The jury is still out, of course.  There are no last words in history, after all – just one final Last Word.

The Bush administration has made many mistakes in its prosecution of the war.  It is not a libertarian administration, and it has not governed as one.  There have been many failures in the last four years that even conservatives rightly regret.

But, lest we forget, Bush did not fail in his most important task.  Democracy still stands in Iraq, where there was none before.  And it stands in spite, not because, of the more “realistic” advice of the man who may soon be our next president.