Less than a month after President Bush traveled to Baghdad and Iraq’s government announced a new operation to stabilize Baghdad, the country teeters closer to the brink of civil war with a daily barrage of brutal attacks killing dozens of Iraqis. Elsewhere in the Middle East, hopes that democratic elections in the region would foster peace and stability have instead resulted in violence from Gaza to Beirut after terrorist groups in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon translated electoral victories into new armed conflict with Israel.

These events are connected, alas, to the Bush administration's bungled occupation of Iraq, which offered hope for democracy without providing the security needed to make that hope come true. By focusing on promoting democracy with democracy narrowly defined as elections, the Bush administration’s strategy has backfired, empowering and emboldening terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah The upshot: more violence and bloodshed across the Middle East.

The United States must continue to support advancing democracy, but it must move beyond the narrow focus on elections and help countries in the region build governing institutions that prevent militias and terrorist organizations from operating openly and flouting the rule of law, as they do in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.

The Bush administration needs to take stock of this deteriorating situation, and the American people need to press the administration and congressional leaders in Washington to do so. It has been more than three years since the United States invaded Iraq. Despite an intensive investment in the future of Iraq, the present course has yielded few benefits for Iraqis with violence surging and political logjams preventing the formation of a capable government.

In the meantime, the U.S. commitment to Iraq has obscured its focus in fighting the war on terror and protecting other U.S. national security interests: Afghanistan is still in shambles, the homeland is still unprotected, and experts agree that we are losing the war on terror. The U.S. troop presence in Iraq has also depleted our military's resources, draining the National Guard and Army Reserves and damaging recruitment rates, making it even tougher to handle other U.S. national security concerns.

It is time to look to the future of the U.S. role in Iraq and consider its implications for U.S. national security, and the future of the Iraqi people and state. The Center for American Progress will host a conference on Thursday, July 20, to explore alternative strategies in Iraq.

The featured speakers are Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations; and Lawrence J. Korb, Senior Fellow of the Center for American Progress and Senior Advisor of the Center for Defense Information. Moderating the event is Morton H. Halperin, Senior Fellow of the Center for American Progress and Director of Security and Peace Initiative.

For more information about the conference, please go to the following link:

For more information about the Center's policy alternatives for Iraq, please see our report:

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