WASHINGTON – President Bush faces increasing calls to get out of Iraq now, but so far refuses to do so. That's because he and his supporters view it as more than an effort to liberate Iraqis from the brutal rule of Saddam Hussein (search), but the battleground for a titanic struggle between the West and Islamic terrorists.
The adversary is considered by many to be every bit as challenging as the threat from the former Soviet Union (search).
"That's the new struggle of our time, and we have to frame it that way to understand what we're contending with and why it's so important for us not to fail," said former Middle East envoy and FOX News contributor Dennis Ross.
Bush has frequently cast the war as a worldwide battle.
"The first war of the 21st century is a war on a global scale. And to protect our people, we've got to prevail in every theater," Bush told National Guard troops on Wednesday.
In his speeches on Iraq, Bush talks about democracy in the region, arguing that free nations are peaceful ones. But the stakes appear to be far more than that. Bush characterizes Iraq (search) as a make-or-break, do-or-die stand for Islamic terrorism.
"They know that the success of a free Iraq, who can be a key ally in the War on Terror and a symbol of success for others, will be a crushing blow to their strategy to dominate the region and threaten America and the free world," Bush said.
If the United States and its allies succeed in Iraq, Bush argues the terrorists would begin to lose their sponsors and their recruits. They would also lose their sanctuaries, like the one in Afghanistan from which Al Qaeda (search) planned the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on America.
But pressure is growing on the administration to withdraw or at least schedule a deadline for remaining in Iraq. With concerns that popular opinion could create a critical mass that would force the coalition to lose heart and withdraw, one Iraqi analyst describes the devastation that would result.
"It's going to mean a disaster for the whole region," said Tanya Gilly, director of democracy programs at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "If we leave Iraq now before its security forces are strong enough to fight the insurgents and the terrorists, we are creating a new breeding ground for terrorists."
Ross warns that if the terrorists were to win, Iraq, not the United States, would become their model nation, and the danger to the West would be far greater.
"They acquire a kind of a momentum and we have to blunt that," Ross said. "I would like to see the president talk much more about those kinds of stakes because this is a way to explain what we're contending with, what we're fighting."
The terrorists already know that killing American soldiers and innocent Iraqis can affect the debate in America. Bush too knows the impact.
"They'll kill women and children, knowing that the images of their brutality will horrify civilized people. Their goal is to force us to retreat," Bush said on Wednesday.
With more than 1,800 servicemen and women killed, some critics argue that the loss of life is already too great. Many of them also reject the goals of the war. But even among those who do support the war, they say a limit will come at some point.
"We can't have a failure in Iraq, but we also can't be there for the next 10 years because if we are, it's going to become, I think, a failure in and of itself," Ross said.
At some time, Iraqis will be asked to take over the fight. Many analysts across the political spectrum say that time has not yet arrived, but it is coming. In the meantime, the president will have his hands full convincing the public not to lose heart.
Click in the video box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Jim Angle.