In the Arena

Hillary on Iraq

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Hillary Clinton’s Iraq speech today wasn’t very noteworthy–mostly a regurgitation of old ideas and old rhetoric–except for her slagging of former Obama advisor Samantha Power:

And out campaigning Senator Obama tells voters that as president he’d withdraw combat brigades from Iraq within 16 months, but one of his top foreign policy advisers told a different story. She told a British television reporter, and I quote, “he will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or as a U.S. Senator.”

Power–a Time colleague–was caught in the worst possible place in a political campaign: committing a truth. She said Obama’s “plan” to get out of Iraq was a “best case scenario.” That is true and then she said this, which is also true:

You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009,” she said. “He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan – an operational plan – that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president. So to think – it would be the height of ideology to sort of say, ‘Well, I said it, therefore I’m going to impose it on whatever reality greets me.'”

“It’s a best-case scenario,” she said again.

So we now have a pattern. Obama’s chief economic advisor (Austan Goolsbee) and a prominent foreign policy advisor (Power) have now told the truth on two important issues, trade and Iraq respectively. Their truth contradicted some of the overheated rhetoric their boss was using on the campaign trail. Hillary Clinton–whose actual positions on trade and Iraq are probably the same as Obama’s advisors–has attacked Obama in both cases for saying one thing and believing another…when she is doing the exact same thing.

You’d hope for something better in a crucial election year, but hey, this is politics. For what it’s worth, I score this contretemps slightly in Obama’s favor: At least his advisors know the truth about these issues and are impolitic enough to be honest about it.

I am certainly disappointed that Clinton didn’t use this opportunity to address the Iraq problem for real–to say, “Look, even though Samantha Power called me a monster, what she said about Iraq is true. Both Senator Obama and I would like to be able to pull a brigade a month out of Iraq, and I’m sure we’ll both try to do that. But truth in advertising requires me to say to you that it’s a best case scenario. I have no idea what the situation on the ground is going to be on January 20, 2009. I have no exact idea how we can use the prospect of our withdrawal to leverage the Iraqis into getting their political act together, but it’s the only real leverage we have–and a new President needs to point the military and our diplomats in that direction. So my policy will be different from John McCain’s, which is to use Iraq as a permanent U.S. base in the region. That’s a bad idea. Permanent U.S. bases would be a permanent irritants in the region. So we’re going to try to leave. But it won’t be easy and it won’t be as quick as we’d all like it to be.”

Update: Matt Yglesias notices that John McCain has gone back to his old, irresponsible, incendiary baloney-slicing on Iraq. You may recall that on the night McCain won the Republican nomination, he–accurately–emphasized sectarian violence as the major threat if the U.S. didn’t leave Iraq carefully. Now he’s back to his utterly bogus “victory” or “defeat” in the war against Al Qaeda. Once again–and I’ll keep on saying this as long as McCain keeps on trying to scare and hoodwink the public–Al Qaeda in Iraq is down to less than 5000 fighters…acccording to its own estimates in captured documents. There is a reason for that: most Sunnis in Iraq have turned against the salafist-jihadi extremists. To be sure, it will require a continuing effort to chase after the terrorist remnants, which is why both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will keep a small residual special operations force in Iraq. But Al Qaeda in Iraq is–happily–no longer the biggest problem in Iraq. There is no chance that it will “win” or take over the country…even though it retains the capacity to launch suicide bombers, as was the horrific case today in Karbala.
The real problem we face now is that “Iraq” isn’t really a country and “Iraqis” don’t get along with each other very well. The big question is, how much bloodshed will it take to sort out that 90 year disaster…and how much more American blood should be contributed to this tribal struggle. It is outrageous and dishonorable that John McCain continues to purposely oversimplify this situation for imagined political gain.