Unlike Matt Stoller, I don’t have a big problem with the plans for Iraq put forward by either Barack Obama or John Edwards. I think the notion of keeping troops in the region (also Jack Murtha’s idea, for the record) for various purposes makes sense. I also think it’s both understandable and correct that people who are hoping to be president in 2009 want to leave themselves some wiggle room in terms of what it is they’re committing themselves to in April 2007. Thus, I’m not disturbed that there’s a certain amount of vagueness in Edwards’ discussion of the possible use of force to protect a humanitarian mission in Iraq, or in Samantha Power’s vision of genocide prevention.
The issue, to me, is that flexibility is a double-edged sword. In the hands of a good president, it’s a good thing. In the hands of a bad president, it’s a bad thing. This is why one needs a good president. I’m pretty confident that Barack Obama and his team would exercise good judgment in this matter, and while I have somewhat less faith in Edwards and his team I’m open to persuasion. Fundamentally, I think it’s a mistake for progressive activists to define the “correct” position on Iraq as simply equivalent to the position that’s most dogmatically hostile to continued American involvement in regional issues. I think the idea of maintaining a semi-permanent counterterrorism force in Iraq is a very bad idea as the presence of such a force in Western Iraq will generate the need for counterterrorism activities there. An “over the horizon” counterterrorism force, by contrast, if prudently used, is a very good idea. If imprudently used, it’s a terrible idea. There’s just no verbal formula that adequately captures what the next president should do.