In an attempt to help clear up this confusion, last week I contacted all eight Democratic presidential campaigns, and asked them two questions:
1--Assuming the current level of violence in Iraq does not decrease, what missions would President XXXX have American troops carrying out in Iraq after his / her first year in office?
2--In your best estimation, how many American troops will be required in order to carry out these missions, if any?
As of this writing, I have received responses from the Richardson, Dodd, Biden and Obama campaigns. In the extended entry, I have reproduced their responses, in full and unedited. Any new responses from the other campaigns will also be placed on the front-page. I do not want to close off the possibility of further responses by posting now, but I also do not want to hold back the information I have already received indefinitely. Besides, the three responses I have already received combine to be quite lengthy, and as such it might be best to break up the responses anyway.
Like Mike Caufield at Blue Hampshire, who recently posted something quite similar, I have found this process to be "more work than I thought" it would be. Having all eight campaigns jointly comment on any request from an independent writer such as myself, much less on a question as fraught with political and policy difficulty as #2, is not easy, to say the least. However, I will continue to try, because I feel these two questions strike at the heart of differences in Iraq policy between the candidates. I know that no campaign will be able to provide an exact number, but listing the missions a given candidate would still have American troops carrying out, coupled with a general range (20,000 -40,000? 5,000-15,000?) seems feasible. I look forward to receiving further responses.
Richardson, Dodd, Biden and Obama responses in the extended entry, published in the order in which they were received.
Below are Governor Richardson's thoughts on US troops in Iraq . In a nutshell, his plan calls for getting all US troops out of Iraq as soon as possible with no residual forces. None. Then diplomacy can have a chance. The US should organize a regional security conference, including all of the countries throughout the region, even Iran and Syria. There should also be a rebuilding conference where countries throughout the region are recruited to help reconstruction in Iraq. If the situation dictates and the Iraqi government requests it, there should be an all Muslim peacekeeping force in Iraq as well.
Basic Iraq Philosophy
Four years after "Mission Accomplished," American troops remain caught in the crossfire of a civil war. One of the only things that Iraqis agree on is that they want us gone: nearly 3 out of 4 tell pollsters that we should leave, and nearly two-thirds say that killing American troops is justified. Over 60 percent were willing to tell a pollster they'd never met that it's okay to kill Americans. Undoubtedly, the real percentage is even higher.
Our troops in Iraq are targets. We do not honor those sacrificed by sacrificing more of them. It is time to bring our men and women home. Every one of them.
There is not a single sign that Iraq is improving. To the contrary, every indication is that it's getting worse, and a smaller force will do nothing to change that. How many more Americans must die before we leave an Iraq that will be no better off than it is today?
The President who told us Saddam had links to Al Qaeda also says we must stay in Iraq to prevent neighboring countries from rushing in. However, preventing foreign meddling and the outbreak of a wider war must not be based upon endless American military occupation, but rather upon something Mr. Bush isn't very familiar with - skillful diplomacy.
Bill Richardson knows this region well. During the Clinton administration, he negotiated extensively with Arab and Muslim leaders. He knows how people in that region think, and how they perceive us. So long as there are American troops in Iraq , millions will believe that we are there to plunder their oil. We will therefore lack the diplomatic leverage we need to get others to cooperate. This is why Governor Richardson believes that we must remove ALL American forces as quickly as possible.
So long as there are US troops in Iraq, they will be targeted by Al Qaeda. Our presence will continue to be exploited for propaganda purposes. The war will go on.
Once we leave, say experts such as Lawrence Korb and Bruce Riedel, the Iraqis themselves will drive out the Al Qaeda foreigners. Moreover, with our ground forces no longer tied down in Iraq, our soldiers and marines will be redeployed to where they can be most effective; the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. There they can combat Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and save Afghanistan from becoming yet another of this administration's casualties.
President Bush will not end this war. Congress alone can force him to end it by using its constitutional power to declare that this war is not authorized. It can demand that the President bring the troops home. A Congressional resolution could not be vetoed by the President, and it would legally require him to end the war. If Mr. Bush stalls on bringing the troops home, Congress could withhold funding except for redeployment. De-authorization would also encourage wavering members of Congress to pass legislation forcing the President's hand.
1) First, I would set a timetable that redeploys U.S. combat troops out of Iraq, beginning immediately - I wouldn't wait until taking office; I would begin the drawdown as soon as possible with the goal of having all combat troops out by March 31, 2008. We must be mindful to conduct this redeployment in a responsible way that ensures the safety of US troops and provides for as much stability as possible in Iraq by stopping the flow of terrorists at the borders and helping the Iraqi government fend for itself.
That's why I would include three narrowly targeted exceptions for redeployment - the protection of U.S. personnel and infrastructure, specific counterterrorism operations, and assistance with the training and equipping of Iraqi forces.
2) "I believe these targeted missions-limited in scope, limited in size-can be carried out in such a way that is consistent with the overarching goal of my Iraq policy which is to encourage the Iraqi people to stand up for themselves and their country. And this will not necessitate any permanent bases."
1) First, as a practical and political matter, it is inconceivable we will have anywhere near 160,000 troops in Iraq this time next year, let alone after my first full year in office in 2009. Even President Bush will have to start drawing down late next year, because the military or Congress will force him to. If, in the interim we actually make progress on a political settlement in Iraq and start to make Iraq the world's problem, not just our own, then I would support continuing what Democrats are trying to do now: transition our troops out of the civil war and into a limited mission of targeted counter-terrorism operations against Al Qaeda and like-minded groups, training Iraqis and force protection. If there actually is a political settlement, I'd also support U.S. troops taking part in any international peace keeping force, as they did in the Balkans. But if the current level of violence persists until the end of 2009, Iraq will be on the edge of breaking apart or fragmenting, if it was not already over the edge, and most of those missions would be impossible. By then, we would have either withdrawn virtually all of our troops, including the thousands necessary just to protect the Green Zone, in an orderly fashion, or gone through another terrible Saigon moment. In that case, the only mission I could see for U.S. troops in Iraq would be targetted counter-terrorism to deny Al Qaeda sanctuary (probably from outside Iraq) as well as working with other countries to contain the fall out of Iraq's civil war within the country.
2) One thing we've learned from this President: while it is the President's responsibility to set the mission, we have to let the uniformed military decide how many troops are needed to safely and effectively carry out the mission. If President Bush had listened to the uniformed military when we went into Iraq -- people like General Shinseki -- he would have committed enough troops not just to win the war but to secure the peace. And we might not be in this terrible mess. So as President, I would look to the military to set force levels. If violence goes down and the prospects for a political settlement go up, and we decide to keep a smaller residual force in Iraq to perform the limited missions I described above, the force size could be anywhere from about 20,000 to 60,000. Remember, we need between 5,000 and 10,000 troops just to protect the Green Zone. But the exact number would be up to the military. If the level of violence was the same and the country had broken or was breaking apart, then I'd have virtually no troops in Iraq, save for any special forces needed for targeted counter-terrorism operations or a containment strategy.
1. Barack Obama supports a phased redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq with the goal of removing all combat brigades by March 31, 2008. In this civil war where no military solution exists, this redeployment remains our best leverage to pressure the Iraqi government to achieve the political settlement between its warring factions that can reduce violence and promote stability.
The Iraq War De-escalation Act that Obama introduced in January 2007 allows for a limited number of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq for force protection, to engage in counter-terrorism, and to continue the training of Iraqi security forces. In addition, we will redeploy our troops to other locations in the region, reassuring our allies that we will stay engaged in the Middle East.
Barack Obama opposed this war from the beginning in part because he believed that giving this President the authority - with no real checks and balances at all - to invade Iraq would lead to the open-ended occupation we find ourselves in today. Now our soldiers find themselves in the crossfire of someone else's civil war. More than 3,600 have given the last full measure of devotion to their country. This war has fueled terrorism and helped galvanize terrorist organizations. And it has made the world less safe.
2. Barack Obama wants the size of the American force left in Iraq to be as small as possible, and does not support having permanent bases in Iraq. However, it is impossible to say at this time how big a residual force would have to be. As president, Obama will do what President Bush has not done on a consistent basis, listen to the advice of his military commanders and make a decision on troop levels based on the realities on the ground in Iraq.
As Barack Obama has said there is no number of American troops that can end the war in Iraq. Success in this war requires a political solution among the Shi'a, Sunnis, and Kurds. Only that can stop their murderous civil war, which together with the terrorists' attacks, are tearing that country apart.
More responses will be posted in a new thread as they come in.