What A.J. Rosmiller said about the significance of John Edwards’ pledge to back away from the training mission in Iraq and how troubling it is that the Clinton and Obama campaigns haven’t really engaged this debate. I would only add that Edwards actually has talked about this on a few occasions previous to his interview with Michael Gordon, it’s just that there hasn’t really been much press interest in pursuing it further.
The New York Times reports today that former Senator and current Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards is calling for a 10-month troop withdrawal from Iraq, including those troops currently training Iraqi security forces. This raises two questions:
1. What took Edwards so long? His main argument for getting the troops out more quickly is similar to the ones we made when the Center for American Progress released its Strategic Reset report more than six months ago.
It makes little sense to spend billions trying to build a national army for a government that lacks the full support of Iraq’s leaders, and there are significant risks that the U.S. strategy is currently arming up different sides in Iraq’s internal conflicts, which may be in a temporary lull.
Moreover, an open-ended commitment fosters a culture of dependency among Iraq’s forces. The United States is expending its most precious national security assets — our young men and women in uniform — in “training” efforts that may essentially make Iraq’s forces less self-sufficient and less likely to take on the tasks only they can get done because they are more dependent on U.S. assistance. The political stalemate among Iraq’s leaders stands where it essentially was two years ago in the immediate aftermath of its last national elections in December 2005 — there has been no progress on national reconciliation. And as an Iraqi working with McClatchy Newspapers in Baghdad tells us today, the Iraqi parliament finally came back from its 16th vacation since it was formed in April 2006 — but is not likely to achieve much.
It is good that Edwards realized this fundamental principle — that mindlessly training Iraq’s security forces in the absence of any political reconciliation and progress is dangerous. But why did it take so long? We could have told you that six months ago. In fact, we did. Which leads to another question —
2. When will the other candidates move to this position? To their credit, the two other Democratic frontrunners, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, have both acknowledged the risks of training without political progress and reconciliation. Senator Obama gave a speech earlier this year that said he would continue training Iraqis IF political progress was made and the Iraqi forces did not act in a sectarian manner. Senator Clinton also has issued similar qualifications, though less clear, saying this past summer she would support training “only to the extent we believe such training is working.”
As Ilan Goldenberg at National Security Network noted, this shift to question training missions has occurred gradually over the past few months among the Democratic presidential frontrunners. Questioning the training is quite different from saying one would affirmatively bring it to an end because it was in the national security interests of the United States, which is what Edwards did today.
We all know that nearly all conservative candidates, except for Ron Paul, are out to lunch on Iraq, and that other progressive candidates are pushing for a sensible redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq. A strong majority of Americans — 57 percent — want U.S. troops out of Iraq by 2009. Will the rest of the candidates listen to the American public?
I want to recommend the whole transcript of Michael Gordon’s interview with John Edwards. Gordon asks him a bunch of tough, skeptical, well-informed questions. And Edwards answers them well. It’s not just an interesting interview that casts Edwards in a good light, but really in a lot of ways shines a light on how political reporting could be made about a thousand times more useful to readers — Gordon knows what he’s talking about and eschews softballs, but at the same time he’s respectful like he and his audience would actually like to hear John Edwards explain why he’s changed his mind about Iraq over time rather than use the question to nail him to the wall.
Rudy Giuliani will apparently attempt to revive his flagging campaign with calls for more war. In particular, since the surge in Iraq has been so awesome, Rudy wants a surge in Afghanistan as well. Logistics? Rudy doesn’t worry about ‘em: “When asked from where the troops would come, Mr. Hill did not rule in or rule out reducing the size of the American presence in Iraq, but he also stressed that the troop level in Iraq should be based on the security needs there.”
He’s also calling on us to wage virtual war against al-Qaeda’s websites, which he does concede to be “a tricky one, both from an international jurisdiction perspective (almost all of these sites are hosted on servers in foreign countries) and because there is some intelligence value to monitoring the sites.”
Interesting question. McCain might have prosecuted the war in Iraq better, especially the aftermath of Saddam’s ouster; but would he have invaded Iraq in the first place? I’d bet no. I realize he was very supportive of the Bush policy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the policy he’d have made if he’d been president. He’d surely have ratcheted up the pressure on Saddam, but I think he’d have been more open to persuasion by the State Department, the Defense Department and the Europeans not to do pull the trigger. After all, the major personnel throughout a McCain administration would have been importantly different, and I doubt they would have been as inclined toward the view that Saddam had to be removed. I’m not trying to make a judgment about the comparative wisdom here — just hazarding a guess on what might have been.
That sounds totally wrong to me. My impression of McCain is that though he was a believer in restraint back in the 1980s, that by 2000 he was the neocon in the race. There was a reason, after all, why Bill Kristol and so forth were supporting him and it wasn’t Kristol’s commitment to campaign finance reform. Indeed, my recollection is that back during the period between 9/11 and when the Bush administration began its formal push for the Iraq AUMF that McCain was, along with Joe Lieberman one of the leading legislative proponents of regime change.
But McCarthy knows a lot more about the world of conservative national security thinkers than I do. If there’s any evidence out there that McCain might not be the dyed-in-the-wool hawk he appears to be, I’d be interested to know it. It might make his seeming comeback in New Hampshire look less frightening.
It increasingly looks like the perils of a Rudy Giuliani administration are behind us, but nevertheless The American Conservative‘s cover story on Giuliani’s foreign policy team by Michael Desch is pretty great nonetheless. The part about Steven Peter Rosen and hegemony is especially interesting. Desch quotes Rosen as saying “successful imperial governance must focus on maintaining and increasing, if possible, the initial advantage in the ability to generate military power.” But he also has him going further, making an odd connection between hegemonism and his view of human nature, quoting a piece Rosen wrote years back rejecting Bush’s call for a “humble” foreign policy:
Humility is always a virtue, but the dominant male atop any social hierarchy, human or otherwise, never managed to rule simply by being nice. Human evolutionary history has produced a species that both creates hierarchies and harbors the desire among subordinates to challenge its dominant member. Those challenges never disappear. The dominant member can never do everything that subordinates desire, and so it is blamed for what it does not do as much as for what it does.
Thus evolution shows that we have to rigorously ignore the views and interests of other countries. I guess. Maybe. Desch also persuasively argues that Charles Hill, often seen as a non-neocon member of the squad, has in fact moved over the years to a position very much in line with the rest of Team Rudy.
There’s too much in this Barnett Rubin post on Pakistan to even try to summarize (always the sign of a good piece) so read it yourself. I’ll just pull out one insight he offers about the way the United States (I think it’s unfair to make this out to be an idiosyncratic failing of the Bush administration) sees the world:
The Bush administration has decided that in the “Muslim world” a battle is going on between pro-American “moderates” and anti-American “extremists.” According to them, the “Muslim world” has a two-party system organized around how Muslims feel about America. In Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf is a “pro-American moderate.” Benazir Bhutto is a “pro-American moderate.” Therefore it is only logical (and in U.S. interests!) for the U.S. to realign Pakistan politics so that the “moderates” work together against the “extremists.
To America, in short, the defining issue in Pakistani politics is . . . people’s attitude toward America. But of course that’s not how it looks in Pakistan, where “it is not just a random problem that the ‘pro-American moderate’ institution headed by General Musharraf executed Benazir’s father and held her for years in solitary confinement.” In short, Pakistani actors and institutions need to be understood in terms of their own interests and goals. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s elections are going to be delayed until February, but the real issue would seem to be less the timing of the election than the extent to which the security services will try to rig them.
Elections aside, one thing Rubin emphasizes is the extent to which the military has tended to allow civilian rule just insofar as military retains control over everything it cares about.
I’m glad to see the Democratic debate turn once again to the subject of Iraq and national security issues where I think there may be more substantive differences between the candidates than you see on the domestic sphere. In an interview with The New York Times‘s Michael Gordon, for example, John Edwards underscores his opposition to a prolonged US “training” mission that would keep the US military engaged in Iraq’s civil conflicts for an extended period of time. I think Edwards is completely correct on this (see, e.g. Brian Katulis’ “Killing the Patient”) but it’s an issue that lots of Democrats in good standing are divided about and thus something it makes sense to have the candidates debating.
The Obama and Clinton campaigns seem to me to be deliberately trying to stay vague on forward-looking Iraq issues, the better to keep their options open for the campaign and for governing purposes. That makes sense, obviously, and there’s a decent chance either of them would wind up doing the right thing in the end, but it’s even better to see a candidate who’s willing to actually stake out that position.
US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy
It seems the Saudi government has arrested their country’s most popular blogger. This site — Free Fouad — has been set up to support him. In policy terms, it seems to me that the conversation tends to veer from the idea of supporting “our bastards” in countries like Saudi Arabia to the idea of trying to transform them into democracies. The latter would be nice, but doesn’t really seem possible. That still leaves us, however, with the possibility of not being so deeply in bed with these kind of regimes.