In the Arena

Democrats and the War

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This article in the Washington Post about how Democrats are “recalibrating” their position on Iraq given the “good news” coming out of Iraq is extremely depressing. It betrays a dangerously low level of knowledge about the situation on the ground in Iraq.

First of all, Hillary Clinton was absolutely right when she told the VFW:

“We’ve begun to change tactics in Iraq, and in some areas, particularly in Anbar province, it’s working.”

But note carefully what Clinton does not say: she does not say the Anbar success can be extrapolated to the Sunni-Shi’ite, and Shi’ite-Shi’ite civil war taking place in the rest of the country. In fact, she seems to believe that it can’t be, which is why she also told the VFW she wants to start withdrawing troops now.

The detailed rectitude of Clinton’s position makes this statement by David Bonior of the Edwards campaign seem really foolish and misleading:

“Senator Clinton’s view that the President’s Iraq policy is ‘working’ is another instance of a Washington politician trying to have it both ways,” Edwards campaign manager David Bonior said in a statement. “You cannot be for the President’s strategy in Iraq but against the war. The American people deserve straight talk and real answers on Iraq, not double-speak, triangulation, or political positioning.”

In fact, the Edwards campaign would be wise to say absolutely nothing at all about Iraq until their candidate can tell us which 50,000 troops he wants to withdraw from Iraq “immediately” and what he wants to do with the 112,000 remaining. You really can’t just love-bomb proposals like this into the middle of a presidential campaign. You have to study the implications of pulling 50,000 troops from, say, the middle of Baghdad. I’m not saying such a withdrawal would be a bad thing: Last month, I suggested that a smaller number of troops withdrawn from Sadr-controlled East Baghdad might encourage the Iraqis to get their political act together. But we’ve gotten no detailed rationale from Edwards, at least none that I’ve seen. A candidate who simply throws out numbers without knowing the consequences will be–I don’t want to put too fine a point on this–eaten alive by his Republican opponent in the general election. (Which is why, by the way, I continue support an immediate start–that means right now–to troop withdrawals but no timetables or end dates since the consequences of our departure from Iraq will have to be closely calibrated along the way.)

But the most mystifying and depressing statement came from Barack Obama:

“My assessment is that if we put an additional 30,000 of our troops into Baghdad, that’s going to quell some of the violence in the short term,” Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) echoed in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that as long as U.S. troops are present that they are going to be doing outstanding work.”

I mean, that has to have been taken out of context or misreported. He’s not talking about an additional additional 30,000 troops, is he? I’ll put a call into the campaign to see what this is about. (Although he is absolutely right about the “outstanding work” our troops are doing.)

Bottom line: Democrats should not mistake the good news in Anbar for success in the wider Iraq war. There, nothing has changed. The news is awful. The Iraqi government has pretty much collapsed. No one knows how to fix it. More tomorrow.

Re OBama: Bill Burton from Obama campaign assures me that the Senator was talking about the current surge, not an additional redeployment of troops into Baghdad. “And he meant Iraq as a whole, not just Baghdad” Burton said. In fact, Obama seems to be implying by the use of the phrase “short-term” that the surge won’t have lasting impact–he’s right about that in Baghdad, where the city seems destined to revert to Sadrist control once we pull back…It would be interesting to know if Obama believes that the changes that have occurred in the Sunni areas are long-term and positive, as Clinton seems to.