I’ve long argued that no Democratic president will fully withdraw from Iraq. There’s been plenty of evidence of Obama’s intentions in that regard; the latest is this exchange from Joe Klein’s recent interview with Obama:
[Q] Lets go back to we’re now moving to the issue portion. When you
questioned [General Petraeus] [in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee] the last
time. You asked him about what [conditions on the ground] would be
‘good enough’ for us to leave Iraq.
[Q] As you sit here today, and you look at what’s happening in Iraq, is it good enough?
[BO] I don’t think it’s quite good enough yet because I think we have
to do a little more training. We’ve got to build up the logistical
capacity. I think the possibilities of ethnic strife breaking out again
are still present, precisely because the political system has not
stabilized itself yet. But I do believe that we are at a point now
where we can start drawing down troops. I think we can time a process
where the drawing down of troops parallel to building up the capacity
in Iraq and the Sofa agreement that just, the Sofa that was just put
forward I think reflects that reality.
Now, this position has nuance and is markedly different from the stay-the-course, empty promise of victory policy of the Bush Administration (and John McCain). It’s still not enough for the “progressive” leftists, however, whose Responsible Plan still calls for total withdrawal of all combat troops. It may surprise many to hear that I am (marginally, but firmly) on the other side of the fence from them, and advocate what the CSIS calls “strategic patience” (PDF link) in Iraq. This is primarily because there is a blood cost to withdrawal and I believe the United States bears a moral responsibility as well as a strategic one.
Naturally, once Obama is elected, the Obama Administration is going to cause a lot of heartburn to progressive leftists and isolationist conservatives (like Daniel Larison) alike. Team Obama is well- aware of this, which may explain Joe Biden’s somewhat odd comments a while back about Obama being tested early on in his presidency. To me, the interesting part of Biden’s comments were as follows:
“Watch, we’re gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy. … And he’s gonna need help. And
the kind of help he’s gonna need is, he’s gonna need you – not
financially to help him – we’re gonna need you to use your influence,
your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it’s
not gonna be apparent initially, it’s not gonna be apparent that we’re
“… he’s gonna need your help. Because I
promise you, you all are gonna be sitting here a year from now going,
‘Oh my God, why are they there in the polls? Why is the polling so
down? Why is this thing so tough?’ We’re gonna have to make some
incredibly tough decisions in the first two years. So I’m asking you
now, I’m asking you now, be prepared to stick with us. Remember the
faith you had at this point because you’re going to have to reinforce
“There are gonna be a lot of you who want to go, ‘Whoa,
wait a minute, yo, whoa, whoa, I don’t know about that decision’,”
Biden continued. “Because if you think the decision is sound when
they’re made, which I believe you will when they’re made, they’re not
likely to be as popular as they are sound. Because if they’re popular,
they’re probably not sound.”
emphasis mine – and keep in mind that total withdrawal from Iraq is very popular right now. I read the above as a warning to supporters who may think Obama will be the exact opposite of President Bush in every respect, that there may be (will be!) occassions where President Obama decides to use force in a manner that the “progressive” left willl not approve of. Maintaining a troop presence in Iraq, and expanding operations in Afghanistan, are likely to be only the start. And I approve wholeheartedly – it’s going to be a more dangerous world, not less, over the next ten years. I know this puts me at odds with most of the liberal mainstream but I am proudly a pragmatic liberal interventionist in these matters. After all, as a liberal, can one permit genocide to re-occur? How exactly, apart from joining Facebook groups, do we Save Darfur?