When I speak on the Vietnam War to college classes and community groups I like to show a map of the world as it was in 1916 before the Bolshevik Revolution that toppled the Tsars in Russia. Then by coloring in the countries that fell to communism in red on additional maps, I can show how far the communists' control had spread by 1940, 1950 and 1960, both in terms of land mass and populations under their control.

It helps explain why the free world was so fearful of communism with its record of atrocities and genocide, and why we ended up fighting for so long in Vietnam.

That same approach can be useful in explaining our presence in Iraq, and what we really stand to lose if we just leave and let the whole region erupt in conflagration.

If you make a map of the Middle East in 1999 and color in friendly (to us) countries in red, and our enemies in black, you would see a solid black mass from Syria through Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan until you get to Pakistan which would have been seen as somewhat friendly to us, but not necessarily a completely trusted ally. Pakistan, Jordan and Lebanon would be colored in alternating red and black stripes indicating that some people there are friendly to us and others hate our guts.

On the Mediterranean side Israel would have been solidly in our camp, as would Saudi Arabia, although there is much to be said about whether that support is solid and across the board.

But after 9-11, and our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, you see the potential for a completely different Middle East. In that scenario, the region looks like a checkerboard with black spaces, our enemies, alternating with red spaces, our allies.
And if you take a good look at that scenario, you will notice that our major enemy, Iran, is bracketed by our allies. Works out nicely for us doesn't it?

Now, if we just leave Iraq, or if we had never invaded Iraq, all my previous columns about Abu Al Zarqawi setting up a new terrorism launching pad there notwithstanding, what you have is a region that is solidly black, and a mindset in the terrorism ranks that says "Attack, attack, attack!"

Not only would the terrorists have an unlimited supply of suicide (homicide) bombers to carry out their marketplace and car bomb attacks, they also would have an energized supply of recruits for more conventional attacks. There is nothing like controlling both the landscape and the media to convince uneducated young men and women to sacrifice themselves in jihad.

(This, by the way, is exactly opposite the situation in America where our military is not only highly educated, but those serving have unimpeded access to all forms of media including the internet, and can read about and debate all sides of all issues to their hearts' content.)

If we just left, not only would attacks in Afghanistan increase exponentially in both number and ferocity, America would see an almost immediate upsurge in terrorist activity. Sleeper cells in the US which even now are working to arm themselves with the materials to wage war in our homes, would emerge and America would suddenly awaken to a new and infinitely more dangerous world. The Democrats would blame George Bush, naturally, and the leftists among them would preach appeasement, none of which would solve the problem.

But long before we got to that point, Middle Eastern terrorists would converge on Israel like a tidal wave. Figure that if we withdrew from Iraq and let all this happen it would mean that our government has been taken over by the forces that now clamor for withdrawal, thus the Israelis would not be able to automatically count on the US for assistance and would be forced to fight alone.

You can bet that would result in the use of nuclear weapons, on both sides if Iran is allowed to go nuclear as its president wants, and the entire region would become more of a killing field than it is now.

I realize that not everyone agrees with this scenario, and in this group I include some friends and acquaintances who also are combat vets, some of whom are highly decorated. Their reasons for disagreeing on this - and more particularly the wisdom of the current increase in troops and the anticipated offensive they will launch in Baghdad and other areas of Iraq - are varied.

Some say the war there has been mishandled from the start and the new offensive won't work; others dislike George Bush for reasons that may or may not have anything to do with the war; others say we haven't done enough on the diplomatic front; and still others say "to hell with the Middle East, who cares if they blow each other up?"

Well, I care. First any region-wide war there will not be confined just to countries like Iraq and Iran. Second, the Islamo-fascists on both sides of the divide will use any war as an excuse to attack Israel with the results I outlined above. Rather than being seen as a strong country that can and will win a war with them, the terrorist leaders will use our withdrawal to show that the US is weak, timid, and ripe for attack from within and without.

On the diplomatic front, I agree that we should be working nonstop to bring the Iraqi factions together, but I don't think we can or should be talking to some regional leaders there, especially in Iran. A point was made on the Sunday morning talk shows last week that Iran was with us in helping deal with post-invasion Afghanistan, and that Iran could and should be part of the solution in Iraq.

I disagree. In 2001 Iran's president was Mohammad Khatami, who may not have been the most moderate person in the Middle East but was one hell of a lot better than Green Bean Almandine, AKA Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was elected president in 2005 and has been spewing hatred and threats against everyone who is not him ever since. Dealing with Khatami was possible. Dealing with Almandine is not.

George Bush agreeing to talk to Green Bean would be like Franklin Roosevelt talking to Hitler. Remember what happened when England's Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain talked to and came to agreement with Hitler in 1938? Hitler suckered Chamberlain and the rest of the European appeasers, used the time he bought to further build his forces and ended up invading everyone on the continent.

Green Bean even says there was no holocaust in World War II and probably thinks of Hitler as a hero and father figure. Of course in Green Bean's world the Holocaust probably didn't happen because in his mind slaughtering Jews by the millions is not a bad thing.

But to the mentally stable citizens of planet Earth it is a horrible, unspeakably reprehensible event and should never be repeated. And for the anti-Semitic crowd, remember this - whatever happens to Israel today will be happening to you tomorrow. And if you aren't a Muslim extremist by birth, nationality, race and gender, your ass is grass and the terrorists will be playing lawn mower.

Also, despite the World Terrorist Media and its local affiliate the American Terrorist Media crowing about how many votes the Iranian president garnered in the last election we have to remember that in Iran the Council of Guardians decides who can run. To even qualify for consideration candidates must be male Muslims who never served in any post under the late Shah, and are loyal to the Islamic Republic. Pretty much narrows the field. In fact, it pretty much says who will get elected.

It not only would be futile for George Bush to talk to a nut job like Green Bean, it would be seen in the terrorist world as a capitulation by the west and Almandine would be elevated in their eyes to a status for which he doesn't qualify and should not be granted. Simultaneously, President Bush's status would drop precipitously, not only in the eyes of the terrorists but also to the Middle Eastern fence-sitters who are waiting to see which leader will emerge as the strongest.

That would spell disaster for us.

So while I understand and welcome the debate on this issue, because debate of this nature is the sign of a healthy democracy, I am solidly behind the president and the troops. I believe in our armed forces, and I maintain that if they are allowed to do their job, without the restraint of asinine Rules of Engagement that make victory all but impossible, they will prevail.

Once they have done their job, and have killed or captured the extremists on all sides who are working to create havoc inside Iraq, the political process will have a real opportunity to succeed, terrorism will have taken a major hit, and we can start to seriously talk about bringing home the troops without fear of mayhem after we leave.

Checkers anyone?