(CNSNews.com) - On a day when thousands gathered in Washington to protest the war in Iraq, conservatives debated their own divisions over the coming troop "surge" and the war's larger role in the war on terrorism.

"It's contrary to the wishes of the Iraqi people and of course contrary to the wishes of the American people," said Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. "We can't fight a war of choice without American support."

Korb, currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, insisted that the United States military leave Iraq in 18 months to "give Iraqis the only motivation to make the painful political compromises."

William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, argued that the U.S. owed it to the Iraqis and itself to attempt the win the war.

"The surge certainly deserves a chance because we have a reasonable chance for success," said Kristol, the former chief of staff to former Vice President Dan Quayle.

"It's really very dangerous for us to lose this war. The arguments are how big a blood bath this will be. The argument is how damaging to U.S. credibility a loss would be ... we can win, and I do believe we should try."

Kristol contends the rush to get out is a misguided product of fatigue.

The two conservatives debated the Iraq war at the National Review Institute's Conservative Summit on Saturday. The chief focus the debate was President Bush's plan to send an additional 21,500 troops into Iraq.

"Our military did its job. It got rid of Saddam Hussein. Iraq had an election. Now we are fighting a civil war," Korb said.

"[National Review founder] Bill Buckley said if we hadn't gotten out of Vietnam, we wouldn't have won the Cold War. If we don't get out of Iraq, we'll have a tough time winning the war on terror. ... al-Qaeda would love for us to stay."

Kristol contended that there was no way leaving Iraq behind would be a victory in the war on terror.

"One of two things would happen," he continued. "Al-Qaeda will establish a base in Iraq or there will be genocide. The honorable and intelligent thing to do is to try to win."

While Iraq may not be a perfect democracy, Kristol said, it might use the Balkans as a model and may even have to divide into separate regions.

"The degree of damage from defeat in Iraq would be great, even if victory in Iraq is not as satisfying as we would like."

Kristol was particularly critical of members of Senate who support a non-binding resolution condemning the troop surge. Resolutions serve no purpose but to demoralize the troops, he stated.

One resolution is supported by mostly Senate Democrats, but Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) also seems ready to sign onto the Democrats' symbolic gesture. A separate, less critical symbolic resolution, has been proposed by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.).

During an earlier session at the National Review summit, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) -- the House GOP chief deputy whip - said Republicans in the House would likely propose a resolution tying support of the troop surge to benchmarks and more congressional oversight.

Iraq was a key reason Republicans lost control of Congress in the 2006 elections, Cantor argued.

"Our potential to retake the majority lies with the way we deal with the war in Iraq," he said.

Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-Brief.

E-mail a comment or news tip to Fred Lucas.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.