While We’re On the Subject of Promises

In his column today Jim Hoagland chides both Sens. Clinton and Obama for making promises they can’t keep about withdrawing U. S. forces from Iraq:

The war in Iraq has not been the explosive primary issue that many expected. The letup in daily disaster and American casualties following the “surge” has helped the U.S. economy overtake Iraq as Topic A.

Even though U.S. counterinsurgency successes have not brought significant political change in Iraq, they have changed American politics, at least temporarily. Clear majorities in the earlier primaries turned away from candidates who urged immediate and unconditional withdrawal. Congressional attempts to legislate withdrawal dates and penalties for Iraqi government failures have subsided.

Obama’s effort to impeach Clinton’s credibility through a backward-looking debate on Iraq — pitting her 2002 vote vs. his 2002 speech — has not been decisive because he has yet to show that the difference will lead to an authentically different approach to getting U.S. combat troops out of Iraq.

Yes, Obama has promised to withdraw all combat troops within 16 months. Clinton promises to begin withdrawals within 60 days of her inauguration. Most significant, each has promised a hedge: to keep unspecified numbers of soldiers behind to fight terrorists or train Iraqis and, in Clinton’s case, to protect the Kurds and deter Iranian aggression.

But neither has been pressed in debates or news conferences as to how these residual troops would be left behind. It strains credulity to think that the Iraqis would — after being told that they are not worth protecting or working with — allow U.S. troops to stay on and hunt al-Qaeda & Co. or protect the huge U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. What carrots do the two Democrats propose to keep this permanently dissed ally on board instead of making any U.S. retreat a hell on Earth?

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.

Mr. Hoagland concludes with a mild drive-by at the Republican candidates generally:

Surviving Republican candidates overshoot the runway in the other direction, attributing to recent U.S. gains a permanence that has still to be established. The Democrats clearly will not repeat that mistake. They must also reject Bush’s habit of ignoring Iraqi realities and responsibilities and pretending that the United States alone has the power to impose its will as the end point of this conflict.

But while we’re on the subject of promises that candidates can’t keep, Iraq isn’t the only subject about which candidates are making promises they can’t keep. I haven’t heard a single credible explanation of how either Democratic or Republican candidates might heal our bruised economy. There have been mumbled nostrums about job training without any real details of for what jobs prospective employees might be trained, how rising real wages could be brought to these jobs, or how the jobs would be secure from offshoring.

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