Shifting Tones on Iraq
Posted by Shawn Brimley
I found today's piece in the New York Times on the Democrats and Iraq fairly interesting:
"As violence declines in Baghdad, the leading Democratic presidential candidates are undertaking a new and challenging balancing act on Iraq: acknowledging that success, trying to shift the focus to the lack of political progress there, and highlighting more domestic concerns like health care and the economy.
Advisers to Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama say that the candidates have watched security conditions improve after the troop escalation in Iraq and concluded that it would be folly not to acknowledge those gains. At the same time, they are arguing that American casualties are still too high, that a quick withdrawal is the only way to end the war and that the so-called surge in additional troops has not paid off in political progress in Iraq.
But the changing situation suggests for the first time that the politics of the war could shift in the general election next year, particularly if the gains continue. While the Democratic candidates are continuing to assail the war — a popular position with many of the party’s primary voters — they run the risk that Republicans will use those critiques to attack the party’s nominee in the election as defeatist and lacking faith in the American military."
While it is clear that the level of violence in Iraq has been trending down, the complete absence of real political progress serves as a warning that these trends can quickly be reversed. I've believed for some time that the question of withdrawal is no longer a question of when (it has already started), but:
- How quickly the next president will bring out the remaining troops (the next president will inherit around 120,000);
- Whether or not the next president will consider plateauing at a certain level at some future point in order to continue counter-terrorism and/or an advising mission (I believe he or she should); and
- If the next president will use the nature and pace of troop reductions to attempt to influence political dynamics on the ground (I think he or she should).