Here’s a thought experiment. We’re back in 2005. Violence in Iraq is horrific and worsening by the day. If, back then, anyone was promising the Iraq that stands today, most people would have taken that promise as very good news.

At the time, though, the “experts” were claiming the country couldn’t be salvaged. Civil war was inevitable, genocide probable, partition likely. Iran and Al Qaeda would have a bigger say in the future of the country than the people of Iraq. Fortunately, the chattering class was wrong.

The surge worked. It broke the back of the insurgency and created a space for the political process to move forward and for Iraqi security forces to stand up.

Now, no one promised Iraq would turn into a land of milk and honey overnight. So no one should be surprised that it has not been dramatically transformed, or that terrorists would try to launch attacks to frustrate the country’s march towards freedom.

Nevertheless, it’s important to keep in mind that Iraq’s recent troubles look troubling mainly because the progress there since 2007 has been so remarkable.

The real issue is, where do we go from here? No one in the U.S. administration or the Iraqi Parliament really believes that the country can keep going forward without a U.S. presence post-2011.

The Iraqis won’t say that now because it’s politically incorrect, especially while they are jockeying to form a new government. The White House won’t say that because it can’t get out ahead of Iraqi politics. The reality is, U.S. support will be needed at some level for some time, and the drawdown of that support needs to be matched with the needs of the Iraqis and U.S. interests.

Iraq will not be the next South Korea. But the U.S. drawdown will have to be measured and metered.

James Jay Carafano is senior research fellow for national security at The Heritage Foundation’s Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies.

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James Jay Carafano is vice president of foreign and defense policy studies  The Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @JJCarafano.