Withdrawing from Iraq (Without Withdrawing from Iraq)

I don’t know if you recall but my prediction has been that, regardless of who is elected president in November, we’re going to have a substantial number of troops in Iraq for the foreeable future. For example here:

I continue to think that any foreseeable president will leave between 60,000 and 80,000 U. S. forces in Iraq for the indefinite future and there’s nothing in the Sen. Clinton’s bold new initiative to suggest otherwise.

or here:

I continue to believe that both Sens. Clinton and Obama have maintained a policy of strategic ambiguity with respect to what they’d do about Iraq, suggesting that they’d withdraw the troops without actually saying that’s what they’d do, pragmatic enough to know the troops won’t be coming home from Iraq for the foreseeable future. It’s clear (at least to me) that they view the political catbird seat as one of giving the impression that they’d withdraw American troops from Iraq, appeasing an American public tired of bad news, without actually intending to take the risky move of withdrawing all of our troops from Iraq.

or here:

I think that we’ll withdraw something like half of the present forces to, perhaps, 80,000 and I think that, barring some catastrophe, we’ll have a sizeable force in Iraq for the foreseeable future. This will continue into the next administration, whoever that may be. The simple reason for this is that nobody really knows what else to do.

Well, it looks like there’s a little more corroboration for my view from very close to the Obama campaign:

WASHINGTON — A key adviser to Senator Obama’s campaign is recommending in a confidential paper that America keep between 60,000 and 80,000 troops in Iraq as of late 2010, a plan at odds with the public pledge of the Illinois senator to withdraw combat forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office.

The paper, obtained by The New York Sun, was written by Colin Kahl for the center-left Center for a New American Security. In “Stay on Success: A Policy of Conditional Engagement,” Mr. Kahl writes that through negotiations with the Iraqi government “the U.S. should aim to transition to a sustainable over-watch posture (of perhaps 60,000–80,000 forces) by the end of 2010 (although the specific timelines should be the byproduct of negotiations and conditions on the ground).”

Mr. Kahl is the day-to-day coordinator of the Obama campaign’s working group on Iraq. A shorter and less detailed version of this paper appeared on the center’s Web site as a policy brief.

Both Mr. Kahl and a senior Obama campaign adviser reached yesterday said the paper does not represent the campaign’s Iraq position. Nonetheless, the paper could provide clues as to the ultimate size of the residual American force the candidate has said would remain in Iraq after the withdrawal of combat brigades. The campaign has not publicly discussed the size of such a force in the past.

So if leaving our troops in Iraq is a deal-breaker for you, it’s simply not possible for to support either of the two major party candidates with any sort of intellectual coherence because neither of them is going to do that.

I genuinely think it would be a lot easier to build the political support we’re going to need to in order to formulate a really rational policy on Iraq if all of the major players would stop posturing and just say right out what they plan to do. Which is stay in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

2 comments… add one
  • Unfortunately, both of the democratic candidates need the anti-war left and McCain needs the “victory” caucus on the right in order to win. I don’t think any of the candidates are actually very far from each other on Iraq despite the rhetoric. This paper, if true, puts Obama pretty close to McCain the only differences being the conditionals and the size of the “overwatch” force. BTW, for “overwatch” purposes, 60-80 thousand is a helluva lot.

  • I’ve also read and heard the nuance that would allow for this. I’m impressed by your prescience.


    OTOH, the article makes pretty clear that Kahl wasn’t writing in his capacity as adviser, but rather that it was a scholarly, unrelated submission. Not sure it will do much to hurt Obama as a result, particularly during the primary.

Leave a Comment