The Post deserves credit for admitting that it was wrong on two key issues in the decision to go to war in Iraq: the presence of chemical and biological weapons, and the likelihood of violent resistance to the U.S. occupation ["Mr. Kerry and Iraq," editorial, Sept. 13].

Nevertheless, the editors, like our president, would compound those errors by sharply limiting the range of "acceptable" options for escaping the quagmire in Iraq.

Specifically, the editors declare that it would be "irresponsible" to bring our troops home in six months and that we have an "obligation" to the Iraqi people to stay the course, no matter how long that takes.

By laying down these markers -- the touchstones, not coincidentally, of almost every colonial misadventure of the past 100 years -- The Post ignores the growing costs of the occupation, its increasingly dim chances of success, and its impact on the wider war on terrorism.

These issues dictate a broader debate during this presidential season. For example, is it possible that an early, phased withdrawal of U.S. forces might reduce, rather than increase, the influence of armed insurgents and possibly facilitate efforts by Iraqis to sort out their own destiny?

And does our "obligation" to the Iraqi people outweigh every other consideration, including our military readiness in the face of other threats, or our ability to respond to other humanitarian crises, such as the genocide in Sudan? Are we bound to continue the occupation even if a majority of Iraqis would like us to withdraw?

Many will see such questions as naive; indeed, what The Post seems to most desire from Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic nominee, is confirmation that such questions are not even under consideration.

However, given the track record of military occupations in general, and the very short list of ones that succeeded in nation-building, naive may be a better description of those who, against all evidence, stick to the conventional wisdom on Iraq.

BILL CORDES

Washington