John F. Burns, the veteran New York Times foreign correspondent who spent much time in Iraq covering the war, went on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show to talk about what’s likely to happen in Iraq after the U.S. withdraws. Excerpts from the transcript:

HH: I wanted, as soon as I heard the news that the President was pulling all of America’s troops out of Iraq, I thought of you. What was your reaction to that announcement?

JB: Well, a sense of great relief for America, I have to say, and for those remaining 45,000, 50,000 troops. And God bless them on their home journey. But it’s a sense of foreboding for Iraq, because I have very little confidence that the center can hold there without the tripwire that American troops represent. They were and remain, until December the 31st, the final guarantor of a constitutional process, flawed as it may be, in Iraq. When they’re gone, I think all bets are off.

Burns says there’s a very good chance that Iraq’s future will not be democratic, but will belong to a strongman, a dictator whose name we probably do not know yet. But until that day?:

The tempo of atrocities is on the rise again. And I think a lot of guns have been holstered, waiting for Americans to go. Everybody knew that they were going to go. The fact that they’re not going to leave a residual presence behind now, of 3,000-5,000 troops that the Iraqis had been talking to Washington about keeping, a sort of tripwire presence, it was certainly a question of time. Even they would have to come out, you know, 12 months, 24 months, 36 months down the road. So a lot of groups of ill intent have been waiting for the Americans to go. And it seems to me that yes, there is a real, real risk of a resumption of widespread violence. And I think American have to brace themselves, and I’m a bit pessimistic about this, for the possibility that the American period in Iraq, which has accomplished some good things, it’s also been a source of, of course, a great deal of unhappiness, and certainly a great deal of resistance within the United States, not to mention Iraq. I think that Americans have to brace themselves for the possibilities that the accomplishments that the United States will be leaving behind, which is a natant constitutional system, may in time suffer the fate that, for example, the British did after their period in Iraq during and after the First World War. The sands of Iraq will simply blow over them, and the American presence in history will amount to, to have accomplished, sadly, rather little.

Let’s see: 4,500 American troops killed; 33,000 wounded. About $1 trillion thrown down the rathole. God knows how many Iraqi civilians dead. And for what? For nothing.

And you watch: not a one of those Republican presidential candidates, Ron Paul honorably excepted, will demonstrate, or will be expected by Republican voters to demonstrate, that they have learned a damn thing from this catastrophe. Incredible.

(H/T: Conor.)