While the death toll rises in Iraq, critics of the war shout, "I told you so." The news that George Bush is reportedly considering an "exit strategy" has further emboldened opponents of the war. It seems that here at last is the proof they have been seeking. Those critics claim the invasion was based on a falsehood, and that the results of military intervention in Iraq have only gone from bad to worse. According to many, the only solution to this Vietnam-like situation is for the United States and its allies to leave the country as soon as possible.
Playing the game of "I told you so" might provide a sense of smug self-satisfaction but it doesn't provide a guide as to what to do next.
Bush, Blair and Howard might be forgiven for thinking that in recent months there are some who are hoping to see a failure in Iraq, simply because it proves their point. Indeed, there were hints of this attitude before the Iraq invasion in 2003.
There was fear, particularly from particular European countries as to what would happen if the US succeeded in its war aims. The centuries-old influence of the French would disappear overnight. Further, an emboldened America, led by a victorious president, would believe itself capable of imposing itself in any other circumstance not to its liking. A single superpower would have no need for its allies, diplomacy or the United Nations. Now, in October 2006, it seems, such "fears" were groundless - the limits of untrammelled power have been reached.
Saying "we shouldn't have been there in the first place" doesn't help. It is now irrelevant whether an invasion that occurred three years ago was justified or not.
Over the past few days, the media and the Opposition have deconstructed the Prime Minister's words and phrases about Iraq. Why they have refused to accept his statement that his attitude in relation to a schedule for the withdrawal of troops hasn't altered is a mystery. Even if it can be demonstrated that the Prime Minister had changed his mind, so what?
The challenge for those nations with military forces in Iraq is the same as it has always been - to bring democracy and stability to the country as quickly as possible. Those objectives don't look like being achieved in the short term.
At the weekend, Kevin Rudd, Labor's foreign affairs spokesman, reiterated his party's position that Iraq was a distraction from the key issue of terrorism. Rudd said that we must "succeed in eliminating the moral basis of the entire al-Qaeda jihadist cause". In this he's correct.
The problem is that such a task might take generations to achieve - assuming that it is even achievable. In the US, the misleading term "war on terrorism" is gradually being replaced by something more accurate. Western liberal democracies are engaged in fighting the "long war" - and a 31/2-year commitment to Iraq must be seen in this perspective.
Opposition Leader Kim Beazley has argued that the only reason the Prime Minister is keeping troops in Iraq is to save his political career. In fact, the opposite is true. Nothing would be easier than for the Prime Minister to announce that the Australian military will leave Iraq. The Prime Minister could say that we tried and failed. While the issue would not go away before the next election, Labor and the Coalition would be reduced to arguing about what had happened in the past.
The Prime Minister's decision not to announce a timetable for the withdrawal of the Australian military from Iraq is the more risky political alternative. It is also brave and it is also correct.
Australia, with the US and Britain, bears a moral responsibility to do everything possible to improve conditions in Iraq. The allies' action precipitated the breakdown of order in Iraq, and they must now try to remedy the situation.
Abandoning the country to civil war clearly doesn't fulfil the allies' moral responsibility. Setting arbitrary deadlines to suit mid-term elections for the American Congress or to satisfy domestic concerns in Australia or Britain is a repudiation of everything the allies stand for.
Clearly foreign forces cannot, and should not, stay in Iraq indefinitely. When they go they should only leave under one of two conditions. Either the military and political objectives will have been achieved, or there exists the conviction that no good will be achieved by a continued presence in Iraq.
As yet neither of these conditions has been satisfied.