Whoever is elected president in November is going to be faced with the difficult and enormously consequential decision of what to do about our military presence in Iraq. I hope we stay.

A majority of Americans disapprove of the situation there, and I understand where they are coming from. Back in 2003 when the war began, I was skeptical of the idea of launching a preemptive attack against Saddam Hussein. Later on, I was frustrated that the White House continually sugarcoated the difficulties we were facing in the invasion's botched aftermath.

Even today, the Bush administration is misguided in its efforts to directly link the fight in Iraq with the one against al-Qaeda. The most significant challenges we face in Iraq are internal (e.g. sectarian struggles) rather than external (foreign jihadists, of whom there are relatively few in the country).

Nonetheless, we have to stay in Iraq. My view is based on what I think reflects the best chance for a peaceful Iraq in the future. What has already passed - the lack of WMDs and a bungled occupation - is in the past. Our goal remains a free, secure and viable Iraq.

A premature U.S. departure from Iraq risks the possibility of a failed state developing in the Middle East. It would be a dire threat to regional stability and a major security risk for the U.S. and its allies. Recall, for example, that when the U.S. abandoned Afghanistan at the end of the Cold War, the ensuing vacuum was filled by the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.

I am amazed that so many Americans would entertain the possibility of quitting in Iraq just because the going has been difficult. This may be in part because we were promised the operation would be a "slam dunk" and that we would be "greeted as liberators" - but come on! Common sense should have told us that we couldn't just waltz in and out within a few years having remade a broken society. These things take time.

After deposing of a vicious dictator and trying to build a democratic society from the ground up in an inhospitable region, it would be unconscionable to just pack up and leave. This is not a game that we can just stop playing. Hitting the exits too early likely means an Iraq dissolved into chaos and war (far worse than anything so far), possibly sucking in the entire region.

Although our endeavor is expensive and requires the sacrifice of a great many courageous Americans (and Iraqis), the potential for a modernized, democratic, pro-Western Muslim state in the Middle East means that this is a necessary fight.

Unconditionally withdrawing from Iraq now would be a betrayal of the Iraqi people and a confirmation to our country's enemies that we lack the stomach for a real fight. Staying and succeeding would provide salvation to the Iraqis and strike a blow against the region's prevailing political fascism and illiberalness.

With several aspects on the ground in Iraq improving in recent months, the focus should not be on troop drawdowns, but on whether we have adequate resources to do the job properly. (This also applies to our current situation in Afghanistan, which is in danger of being forgotten again.)

We are hoping for a pacification of violence, a rejection of extremism (such as the "Anbar Awakening," where Sunni tribes rallied against al-Qaeda fighters) and ultimately, political cohesion in Iraq. Though not a certainty, these are achievable goals based on where we stand today. We need to give ourselves enough time to make them a reality.

In Iraq we have a noble mission before us, based on sound moral values regarding freedom. For that purpose, I am willing to be optimistic. Let's give Iraq a real chance.

Jay Nargundkar is a senior finance major. He can be reached at terpnews@gmail.com.