About Those Residuals

Matt Stoller rages against Hillary Clinton’s plan to end the war in Iraq while maintaining American military forces in Iraq. Ed Kilgore remarks that “There’s one big problem with Matt’s anathema: it would also apply to Barack Obama, John Edwards, and quite a few other Democrats generally considered to be unimpeachably anti-war.”

Obama’s Iraq withdrawal plan explicity calls for a “residual force” to stay in the country to fight terrorists and deter foreign intervention. John Edwards, who has emphasized the need for immediately withdrawing half the current troop deployment, has also talked about a continuing if limited military commitment. And even such withdrawal hardliners as John Kerry, Russ Feingold and Jack Murtha have supported the same kind of commitment through an “over the horizon” force prepared to re-intervene at a moment’s notice, and even a “minimal” force, presumably special ops counter-terrorism units, operating within Iraq.

I think it’s a mistake to elide the difference between an over-the-horizon force (meaning you want it to be logistically possible to re-re-deploy into Iraq if circumstances warrant) and an in-country force (meaning you’ve prejudged that there should be a continuing presence in Iraq) but that this is largely correct. Now, in a big picture sense, what this emphasizes is the extent to which it would be good to have a president you trusted. A provision that allows for some troops to continue being in Iraq even as combat forces are withdrawn could be prudence or it could be a loophole. To me, what separates Clinton from Obama and Edwards on this front is that Clinton appeared to be saying that one mission of her proposed continuing presence in Iraq would be trying to intimidate Iran which sounds more like loophole territory than prudence territory to me.

That said, as readers know I have ex ante suspicion of Clinton’s national security instincts and I don’t actually think this gives me any new grounds for doubt — it just emphasizes that one wants a president whose instincts one trusts. The upshot is that none of the big three are offering ironclad get out of Iraq promises. I do think the Kerry/Feingold/Murtha plans are qualitatively different. If, however, you want the United States to more-or-less entirely abandon the project of projecting military power in the Middle East you really do need to back Kucinich (and I’m sort of surprised by Kucinich’s lack of netroots support; I don’t share his view, but a lot of people I read on the internet seem to and they may as well support him).