On Hypothetical Questions And Troop Levels In Iraq

by: Chris Bowers

Thu Aug 30, 2007 at 14:24


( - promoted by Matt Stoller)

Bill Richardson just put out an interesting action alert:

All the major Democratic candidates say they are eager to end this war, and they all say they don't believe there is a military solution in Iraq. Why, then, do they maintain that we must leave an indefinite number of troops behind for an indeterminate amount of time to work hopelessly towards a military solution everyone says doesn't exist?

It is time to get a straight answer from all the other candidates: how many troops would you leave behind? For how long?

We can help make sure we get the clear answers we deserve. Sign our petition asking Univision, the sponsors of the next Democratic candidates' debate on September 9th, to get an answer from each candidate: how many troops would you leave behind? For how long?

I applaud Richardson's efforts on this front, just as I applauded MSNBC when they attempted to get straight answers from candidates on how many troops they intend to leave in Iraq if they become President. However, if my experience on this front is any indication, even if this question is asked at the Univision debate, in all likelihood no one except Richardson and Biden will answer the question (Kucinich and Gravel might, since it is hard to predict what they do). The question will be labeled hypothetical, and the response will be that they will listen to the commanders on the ground. And then, the debate will move on to the next question.

The more I think about this dodge from Clinton, Obama, and Edwards on how many troops they intend to leave in Iraq, the angrier I become. Why is an inquiry into how many troops they intend to leave in Iraq a hypothetical question not worthy of an answer, but inquiries into how much their health care plans will reduce the cost of insurance premiums a hypoethical question worthy of prominently displaying an answer to on your website? For example, take Hillary Clinton on lowering health care costs:

Senator Clinton proposed a series of initiatives that will cut the spiraling rate of growth by one-third over time(…)

Senator Clinton's proposals would reduce costs and improve quality in the health care system. Taken together they would lower national health spending by at least $120 billion dollars a year. If businesses received a proportionate reduction in their health benefits spending, they would achieve at least $25 billion in savings in 2004 dollars. Families would substantially benefit as well. In fact, Business Roundtable has estimated $2,200 in national health savings for the typical family.

Now, pardon me for asking, but isn't every single one of these projections "hypothetical?" Senator Clinton does not know for certain exactly how much her initiatives will reduce the growth rate of insurance premiums, exactly how much it would lower health care spending nationwide, exactly how much it would save businesses, or how much it would save the average family. However, her campaign has no problem shouting all of these hypothetical estimates at the top of its voice. Why are these hypothetical questions worth answering, but not estimates on how many troops Senator Clinton would leave in Iraq?

John Edwards on poverty:

Edwards has outlined a Working Society initiative to lift 12 million Americans out of poverty in a decade and beat poverty over the next 30 years.

Get hypothetical much? Edwards provides a specific estimate on how many Americans his anti-poverty initiatives will raise out of poverty, 12,000,000, but will not provide an estimate on how many American troops he intends to leave in Iraq. Maybe it is just me, but that seems like a double standard on what hypothetical projections his campaign is willing to make, and which ones it is not willing to make.

Barack Obama on energy:

Barack Obama has proposed bold initiatives to put America on the path to a clean and secure energy future. Obama supports implementation of a bold market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce dependence on foreign oil and nonrenewable, polluting sources of energy. Obama will also dramatically increase federal investment in advanced clean-energy technologies and energy efficiency. The Obama plan to create an energy independent America will cut U.S. oil consumption by 2.5 million barrels of oil per day, take 50 million cars worth of pollution off the road, and save American consumers more than $50 billion at the gas pump.(…)

Barack Obama supports implementation of a market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.

Did the definition of hypothetical change in the last couple of months? Apparently, the Obama campaign is willing to estimate how much his energy plan will cut oil consumption, how much it will cut automobile pollution, how much money it will save American consumers, and how much it will reduce carbon emissions 43 years from now. However, his campaign is not willing to estimate how many troops he would have in Iraq in just two years time.

The refusal to provide an estimate for how many troops Clinton, Edwards and Obama has nothing to do with a refusal to engage in hypotheticals. Presidential campaigns are clearly willing to dish out hypothetical numbers all the time on issues like health care and energy costs, or issues like reducing poverty and pollution, as long as their internal hypothetical numbers make them look good. As such, the only conclusions I can draw from repeated unwillingness of these campaigns to estimate how many troops they would leave in Iraq is that they either have no idea how many troops they would leave in Iraq, or the actual estimated figure would make these campaigns look very, very bad to the base. Either conclusion is disturbing should serve as the operating assumptions for every Democratic voter until these leading campaigns provide an actual estimate.

Right now, Bill Richardson is the only Democrat providing clarity on Iraq. I am not endorsing him, but I certainly hope he keeps rising in Iowa and New Hampshire using he transparent, progressive, "no residual force" position on Iraq. Richardson's Iraq stance is the equivalent of Howard Dean's differentiation in 2003, when he rocketed upward in the polls in large measure because he opposed the war from the start. While there are other attributes of Richardson that have prevented him from becoming a major netroots candidate, clearly what he is saying on Iraq is working big time in the early states. I have to say that brings a smile to my face.

Chris Bowers :: On Hypothetical Questions And Troop Levels In Iraq

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Hypotheticals (0.00 / 0)
You show that they clearly traffic in hypotheticals all the time: why not simply offer the hypothetical troop level they feel would be most politically advantageous?

I'd be wholly unsurprised if they don't know how many troops they'd leave: there's no telling what Iraq will look like in 2009. But I don't think that's an excuse for not tossing a number out there. Doesn't stop 'em with other issues. Equally, if they think the number is too high for the base, why not, er, round down a bit? They can always claim later that things changed on the ground.

So _my_ conclusion is that they've decided that refraining from offering an estimate--and possibly even having one, at this point--is the wisest political course. They're not gonna lose many supporters by keeping this vague (I'm not about to move to Richardson or Biden over it), and if they offer firm numbers, they might. Also, now that I wrote his name, they've gotta be aware that Richardson isn't getting any traction with  this. From that evidence, they might conclude (and I think rightly) that the 'base' doesn't much care about specific estimates right now.


Here's a project for the lefty sphere! (0.00 / 0)
Hound the top three campaigns mercilessly and record every evasion.

Give a prize for the best evasion of the day - get gotchas on You Tube.

Of course, it would demand an attention span greater than a gerbil's - not a spherical strong point - and probably those seeking a political career ought to stay clear.

But - it sure would add to the gaiety of nations - and eventually might even come up with an answer.

(Well, the former, at least...)


Kucinich and Gravel (0.00 / 0)
Provide clarity on Iraq as well as Richardson.

Real numbers are fine, I guess (4.00 / 1)
Honestly, I don't really care what the numbers are as long as we agree on some bedrock principles:

1. The war was a mistake
2. Our presences isn't making things better
3. The goal can't be "winning" the Iraq war. We need to leave
4. This is a political problem with a political solution

With those down, numbers may be best left to the generals. (Bush has given trusting the generals a bad name, IMO)

What I like about Richardson is he's talking about political solutions too. His diplomacy record is excellent, and I feel he could really work to build a strong international POLITICAL coalition to help move Iraq forward, while withdrawing troops and ending our failed war.

What you say is true. Progressives need their own solution to Iraq. We can't just be anti-war, we have to be pro something else. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, so I suppose I'll have a longer piece on it sometime soon...

The Seminal :: Independent Media & Politics


What if (0.00 / 0)
Someone agrees on those principles, and then the generals tell him or her to leave 80,000 troops in Iraq? Would you not care about the numbers then?

[ Parent ]
If Richardson got (0.00 / 0)
elected, and then said: "Looks like we need to keep 80,000 troops in Iraq," I'd think there was some reason for this. If Wesley Clark wanted to keep those troops there, and Al Gore agreed, ditto. If Howard Dean came out and said, "Yeah, a general I trust says we need 80,000 troops there, and I agree with him," I'd certainly not immediately oppose the idea.

Maybe along with the 'incompetence dodge' there's an 'expert opinion' dodge, and I'm guilty of that, but although I'm convinced by all of the principles listed, I'm just an idiot with an internet connection. I know my own limitations, all too well. My decision isn't only 'what should we do?' but 'who do I trust to know what we should do?'


[ Parent ]
It's more complex than that. (0.00 / 0)
If that's the end of the plan, leave 80,000 troops, of course I wouldn't support it. If that were your only plan, it really doesn't address points 2 and 3 (you'd have to justify leaving that many troops against the point that you don't want to win and American troops in Iraq are making things worse), and it totally ignores point 4. Where's the political solutiion to the political problem?

Bush likes to think that simply creating security in Iraq is going to lead to political reconciliation. Clearly, that's not the case. When I say a political solutioin, sure, it might involve the Iraqis, but it is also going to involve the rest of the world. Without a clear, specific political solution (which I don't feel any Dem candidates really have given), keeping troops in Iraq is wrong.

I'm not saying I have a great solution. I really don't. But I do feel that progressives need our solution to the war. Conservatives have theirs. It's terrible and it doesn't work, but they have one. We need one too. Just saying withdraw from Iraq without talking about partition or international peacekeeping or international peace talks is a pretty hollow solution, and it leaves you open to attacks from the right. All they need to say is, "Ok, you withdraw, then what?"

Honestly, no Democratic candidate has a good answer to "Then what?" I'm not saying fall into the trap of talking about Iraq as a haven for Al-Qaeda. Real experts know that's a silly argument. But something will need to be done about Iraq after the US troops leave. We won't just ignore the country. And so we need a plan, a real progressive plan.

The Seminal :: Independent Media & Politics


[ Parent ]
Er, this seems like a weak post to me, Bowers (0.00 / 0)
For example, the old article you linked to, Obama doesn't dismiss the question as a hypothetical, he simply says that, while he wants the residual troops to be as small as possible, it's impossible to predict right now what will be necessary in the future.  This seems, well, obviously true to me. 

What's more, you haven't even provided a link to any of the campaigns you're blasting here for avoiding the question on the grounds that it's hypothetical actually saying, well, that they won't answer it because it's hypothetical.

Indeed, at the Iowa debate, I recall Sen. Clinton (who I hardly support) saying this:

But, if you look at how we would have to take our troops out, plus the equipment, which we would not want to leave, plus what we do with the people in the Green Zone, plus what we do with the Iraqis who sided with us -- thousands of them -- plus, what we do with the more than 100,000 American contractors who are there -- this is a massive, complicated undertaking.

If you go read, say, George Packer in the New Republic, you might notice passages like this:

Withdrawal means that the United States will have to watch Iraqis die in ever greater numbers without doing much of anything to prevent it, because the welfare of Iraqis will no longer be among our central concerns. Those Iraqis who have had anything to do with the occupation and its promises of democracy will be among the first to be killed: the translators, the government officials, the embassy employees, the journalists, the organizers of women's and human rights groups. As it is, they are being killed one by one. (I personally know at least half a dozen of them who have been murdered.) Without the protection of the Green Zone, U.S. bases, or the inhibiting effect on the Sunni and Shia militias of 150,000 U.S. troops, they will be killed in much greater numbers. To me, the relevant historical analogy is not the helicopters taking off from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, leaving thousands of Vietnamese to the reeducation camps. It is the systematic slaughter by the Khmer Rouge of every Cambodian who appeared to have had anything to do with the West.

If the United States leaves Iraq, our last shred of honor and decency will require us to save as many of these Iraqis as possible

Dropping everything and even, as Richardson suggests, leaving actual equipment behind, seems like the worst idea in the world, in light of that.  A gradual withdrawal, where we can help move thousands of refugees, and make sure we're not leaving behind weapons for militias to steal, seems, I don't know, to exhibit the type of care and forethought the U.S. lacked when originally going into Iraq

I was vocal and angry about my opposition to the war in Iraq, and took a lot of ridicule for it, from liberal and conservative friends and family alike.  I've wanted us out since the day we went in.  But that doesn't mean I have to hold the knee-jerk response of "pull everyone out now!", and just because Clinton, Obama, et al, don't hold that position doesn't mean they're being evasive or political.  Indeed, the quote above seems like the opposite of evasion (which is amazing, for Clinton).  It seems like a clear reason to take withdrawal slowly: to ensure that we're doing everything we can to limit the loss of life and equipment as we leave.  Considering the extent to which we've destroyed that country, that seems like a worthy enough goal to me.

Richardson's "1-point plan" for withdrawal sounds strikingly similar to Bush's plan for occupation in its simplicity and complete disregard for the political and social dynamics at play in Iraq, as well as concern for the welfare of Iraqi citizens, especially those who've aided us in the country.


asdf (0.00 / 0)
For example, the old article you linked to, Obama doesn't dismiss the question as a hypothetical, he simply says that, while he wants the residual troops to be as small as possible, it's impossible to predict right now what will be necessary in the future.

Which means he doesn't know how many troops he would leave in Iraq. That is one of the possibilities I accounted for.

What's more, you haven't even provided a link to any of the campaigns you're blasting here for avoiding the question on the grounds that it's hypothetical actually saying, well, that they won't answer it because it's hypothetical.

Yes I did. Every campaign that did not provide me with an answer to  the post that lists Dodd, Obama, Richardson and Biden's troop withdrawal plans told me it was too hypothetical a question to answer. I asked every campaign to provide me with a response to that piece three times before publishing it. The ones who did not respond said it was too hypothetical.

I was vocal and angry about my opposition to the war in Iraq, and took a lot of ridicule for it, from liberal and conservative friends and family alike.  I've wanted us out since the day we went in.

I am sorry for the persecution you suffered. However, we are still in there now, but you don't seem to want us out. And how, exactly will a slow withdrawal protect those same Iraqis who will be killed when we withdraw? At some point, whether we leave slowly or quickly, we will be gone. I fail to see the difference in protection.

Besides, Richardson isn't talking about removing anyone at once. His deadline is six months. Obama says he wants all combat brigades out by March 31st, 2008, which is in seven months. His problem is that he does not specific what will stay besides the combat brigades. As I published last month on Open Left, and as you quoted above, that is a question to which he apparently does not know the answer.


[ Parent ]
I wasn't suggesting (4.00 / 1)
We leave those Iraqis behind.  I am suggesting we have a credible refugee policy, so as (to echo Gerald Ford), we do not add moral shame to our humiliation. 

And relocating thousands of Iraqis is a time consuming process that requires troop protection while we do it. 

So, what's the difference, really?  If Richardson is talking about taking, say, 6 months, and Obama and Clinton 1 year, what's the difference?  Except that the latter grouping seems to be leaving themselves more leeway for unforeseen developments, whereas Richardson is not (everyone out, in X days). 

You might like Richardson's clarity, but I find specific policy-making (that is obviously politically-motivated) from a non-military expert on what our position should be in some unknown situation...well...I find that to be a bad idea.

I don't want troops in Iraq indefinitely, I don't even want them there now, but I want them withdrawn in a way that seeks to maximize stability.  Maybe we can't keep Iraq from devolving into utter chaos, but so long as there's a chance for some stability and same saving or Iraqi life, I think we ought to pursue it as we leave.

Some on the left may disagree, but my position has little to do with hypotheticals, and I've seen it echoed in the responses that Clinton, Biden, Obama, et al give in the debates.  Which makes me think they're in step with my thinking.


[ Parent ]
many overlapping issues here (0.00 / 0)
Chris, again I must raise distinctions, in this case between organizations and campaigns.  I thought it great that you raised the question of Empire this week.  It's great that we're going after the Bush dogs.  Yet in the comments today, people are all over the place.  Trust the Generals?  Maybe 80,000 depending if our successful candidate says so?

I think we have to forge ahead, yet it is awkward that we are doing so when we are not fully united on opposition to Empire and the U.S. being the policeman of the world.  I fear that we could get out on a limb, and find ourselves less united than we thought.

The blurring between OpenLeft and "our" candidates can be particularly troublesome.  It may well be that a candidate I support has to take a certain position on troop levels that I don't like.  I can live with that.  But my position is that the number of troops left behind should be zero, nada, zilch.  And I'm not going to say otherwise.

Likewise, OpenLeft may decide that 10,000 is a good consensus number.  Okay.  I can live with that.  I still think it should be zero, but what the hell?

We have to be able to discuss these matters on multiple levels, and be quite clear on which level we're talking at any given moment, lest we splinter unnecessarily.  We need OUR position.  Then we negotiate.

And I'll add this.  On whether the U.S. takes military action against Iran, no!  That I don't compromise.  That I don't negotiate.  In case anybody were to ask.  :>)

Full Court Press!  http://www.openleft.com/showDi...


[ Parent ]
At this point all their presidencies (4.00 / 1)
are hypothetical. If they don't want to talk hypothetically, they shouldn't be running.

McCain down. Rudy Giuliani is next.

This Bill Richardson? (0.00 / 0)
http://www.youtube.c...
"I'm just not familiar with the supplemental. Which one is that?"

It's just a political thing. He is taking these steps to try to differentiate himself in terms of Iraq but when he doesn't even know what the supplemental is and just repeats his own schtick, I am inclined not to listen to him.

The supplemental is a way to end the war in 2007. It needs all the support that it can get. Edwards, though not my preferred candidate, has shown leadership on this issue in regards to how someone without a vote in the Senate can still speak on the issue. Richardson has not.

Deauthorization, like it or not, probably is not. Richardson is using all the catch phrases ("all troops out") while masking that he is entirely uninterested in really stopping this war right now, only in using it to gain these political points.


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