PRESIDENT George W. Bush's place in history -- standard-bearer or war-mongerer -- is being decided perhaps at this moment in Iraq, three years after the US- led invasion.
If Iraq sinks into civil war Bush will find himself in the US presidents gallery not alongside Franklin Roosevelt, honored as the victor over Nazi Germany and imperialist Japan, but next to Lyndon Johnson, who was tarnished by the Vietnam War.
Bush recognisd the gravity of the current situation in Iraq by saying that Iraqis were at "a moment of choosing." But in the end they had turned away from "the abyss" of civil war, he said.
If he is right -- despite the international discord before the first US bombings on Baghdad on March 20, 2003, despite the growing disapproval today in the United States-one will have to wait before judging his presidency, experts say.
But the war in Iraq will serve as the touchstone of Bush's two four-year terms.
"No question about it," said Stephen Hess, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank. "It is overwhelmingly the issue."
Hess said that Bush was the genesis of the issue.
"(Hurricane) Katrina was something that he did not choose to create but Iraq he did. It can be said that it was all his creation."
Bush should be personally judged on the success or the failure of Operation Iraqi Freedom, said another expert, David Corbin of the University of New Hampshire.
"He has put all of his chips on the war, he wanted it to be that way, the people who are for or against him wanted it to be that way also," Corbin said.
Political strategist Mark McKinnon, a top adviser in Bush's presidential campaigns, told USA Today newspaper recently: "The war is really driving almost everything in government."
The president himself repeats: "We remain a nation at war."
The war is deciding the popularity of the president and his administration. The Republican majority worries that it might dictate the outcome of mid-term legislative elections in November.
In public opinion polls, support of the president's action tracks support of the war.
Bush has never been so unpopular, according to a recent Gallup poll. Only 36 percent of Americans surveyed appreciate his job performance and 60 percent found it unsatisfactory. Sixty percent said the situation in Iraq was either bad or very bad.
The war in Iraq has claimed the lives of more than 2,300 US troops and cost hundreds of billions of dollars. For Bush critics, it has eroded US credibility in the Middle East and alienated, even radicalised, some Muslims. And it has strengthened the hand of neighbouring Iran.
More than half of Americans think the Bush administration lied about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to legitimise the invasion, Gallup found.
Bush has consistently defended his "strategy for victory in Iraq." But in recent months he has changed his tone and recognised errors and difficulties, while downplaying them.
More than half of Americans polled also want at least the start of a US military withdrawal from Iraq.
Among the ranks of neo-conservatives, who have an eye on the upcoming legislative elections and beyond, talk already has begun about the need for Iraqis to take care of themselves now that they have been liberated.
Even if political experts think that Americans' economic and local concerns will prevail over worries about Iraq, 61 percent of registered voters polled by Gallup said the Iraq issue will be an important or the most important factor in their choice of candidates to elect in November.
Bush appeals for resoluteness and patience. He assures that democracy is making progress in Iraq and in the region.
But, according to polls, three quarters of Americans believe Iraq is on the brink of civil war. They are listening to the US ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, who recently said: "We have opened the Pandora's box."