Update: Democratic Plans For American Troops In Iraq

by: Chris Bowers

Thu Jul 12, 2007 at 12:03

On Monday, I posted on the difficulty of determining how many American troops would remain in Iraq under the myriad Democratic redeployment plans. The confusion was underscored by Senator Reid, who early on Monday indicated that when it comes to the Feingold-Reid redeployment plan, "there are estimates that that would still leave tens of thousands of troops to stay in Iraq." However, later in the day Senator Feingold issued a statement indicating that he "does not envision that the exceptions outlined in Feingold-Reid will require tens of thousands of troops."

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.

Chris Bowers :: Update: Democratic Plans For American Troops In Iraq
Bill Richardson:

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.

Chris Dodd:

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."

Joe Biden:

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.

Barack Obama:

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.

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Sen. Feingold said... (0.00 / 0)
Sen. Feingold specifically said on MSNBC's "Super Tuesday" that Feingold-Reid would require thousands of troops, just not tens of thousands.

Good for him (0.00 / 0)
I like that kind of specificity, even though I know it is not easy to provide.

[ Parent ]
I tend to the opposite view (0.00 / 0)
I'd be asking myself (among other things): Where does he get the info? On the basis of what assumptions does he arrive at his estimate?

I am deeply suspicious of freelance assessments of military matters, and of anything that might be going on in Iraq. The chances for self-delusion (wilful or otherwise) are just so enormous.

(I'm also deeply suspicious of Admin assessments of these things, natch!

Vultures, vultures everywhere...)

[ Parent ]
I think it's hard to answer (0.00 / 0)
the question with great specificity at this point, especially for Presidential candidates who are asked to look ahead to what the situation will be like in 2009.

I think all of the reasons Dodd, Obama, Biden, etc. give for keeping troops in Iraq are perfectly legitimate. It makes sense to remove all combat troops and stop engaging in the kind of fighting with militias, insurgents, and terrorist groups that we're doing right now, but if someone sets up a terrorist camp in Anbar province, for instance, I would want to be able to take it out, and who knows whether the Iraqi government would be capable of doing something like that?

[ Parent ]
That's a start (0.00 / 1)
None of those answers are quick at getting to the point, but that's hardly surprising.

I do think Richardson's response needed to clarify whether or not he would maintain an embassy. He may already have answered this, but if so it passed me by. His suggestion of redeployment to Afghanistan is something I hadn't heard before too. I still think elements of his plan are unrealistic (I don't see any Muslim nations who'd be keen to step forward and provide peacekeeping forces for Iraq) but the development is interesting.

Dodd's answer is fairly safe (it's largely what Clinton has been saying). As a follow up, I'd be interested to hear (aside from a numbers estimate) exactly what U.S. infrastructure needs protecting and whether he'd keep up training essentially indefinitely.

Biden's answering the question fairly clearly. One quibble: "make Iraq the world's problem" is one of the worst slogans I have ever heard.

Obama barely answers the question. Yes, it's good that he opposed the war from the beginning, but I don't think the blogosphere needs reminding of that yet again. He's told us that he's against permanent bases, but precious little else. But at least he's responded.

Good work Chris! Actually getting them to begin to nail their colours to the mast is an important step in making the race about something other than previous jobs and personalities.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

Team World Problem (0.00 / 0)
make Iraq the world's problem, not just our own

Aside from it being a bad slogan, this is the most uncomprehensive comment on the subject I've seen coming from any of the candidates. Biden really doesn't think before he speaks.

Iraq's already the world's problem. What, a couple of million refugees in Syria, Jordan, Iran and elsewhere? Turkey with a force on the Kurdish territorial border that's nearly the size of the US presence in Iraq? Man, I'm glad he doesn't have a chance of winning, I just hope any Democratic president isn't stupid enough to appoint him to State.

Those who have had a chance for four years and could not produce peace should not be given another chance. --Richard Nixon, 9 October 1968

[ Parent ]
Re: (0.00 / 0)
This is a hard question for any of them to answer, I was surprised to see Biden mention any numbers at all. What I did like was that they were all fairly clear about what operations they thought were acceptable to continue after the withdrawal of combat troops. I like their reasoning, and I like that they responded to Chris' questions.

One thing: I wish Chris wouldn't have published any of the responses until he got all the campaigns on board. Maybe Edwards, Clinton, and Kucinich meant to respond but didn't have their act together, maybe they're just ignoring the question (wouldn't surprise me in Clinton's case), or maybe they're waiting for the other campaigns to give responses before they do.

In any case, the fact that Biden, Dodd, Richardson, and Obama already gave their answers and had them published makes any answers from the other candidates a little less meaningful (not that I'd accuse any of our fine politicians of playing politics over the war...)

[ Parent ]
Alright (0.00 / 0)
One thing about Richardson's plan:

If the situation dictates and the Iraqi government requests it, there should be an all Muslim peacekeeping force in Iraq as well.

This strikes me as a pretty shoddy idea. Any Arab-Muslim peacekeeping force (and I have trouble imagining many states contributing) is going to be Sunni dominated- delegitimizing the entire force in the eyes of the Shia dominated government.

Who I'm voting for (0.00 / 0)
President XXXX

Those who have had a chance for four years and could not produce peace should not be given another chance. --Richard Nixon, 9 October 1968

It's a Red Herring (0.00 / 0)
With all due respect, it's one of those questions designed to elicit a meaningless, or certainly non-specific,  answer.  The question really is how are you going to pull the bulk of the troops out and solve the diplomatic issues of the region.  The specifics are bound to change as the situation on the ground changes and the politics of the region change.

The Answers (0.00 / 0)
Biden's is probably the most complete (not that I'd vote for him, but--).  He is also correct that (1) we don't know what Iraq will look like in 2 years and (2) Bush will have to draw down troops next year because the military or Congress will force it, sionce we just don't have the troops to maintain the escalation indefinitely. 

The "exception" for force protection is where it gets sticky.  This can be a circular argument for more troops to protect the troops that are there that requirte more protection . . . .  Right now we have big bases with Pizza Huts and Burger Kings and huge support requirements.  That is why "no permanent bases" is key.

Obama is clear that he doesn't want permanent bases, so that reduces automatically the number of troops.  If we downsize the Embassy, that will have the same result.  Leaving 1-2000 special forces for intelligence and covert ops does not unduly trouble me.  What is crazy is leaving 30,000-50,000 troops with an unclear message as a sort of "split the difference" measure.  As I see it, that is just running from making a decision. 

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

Biden: Virtually Certain And Wrong (0.00 / 0)
Biden uses the phrase "virtually certain" in his answer.  He must like this phrase.  And every time he has used it he has been wrong.

In November 2005, Biden stated:

"Even if more troops still made sense, we don't have more to give. In fact, we cannot sustain what we have now beyond next spring unless we extend deployment times beyond 12 months, send soldiers back for third, fourth, and fifth tours or pull forces from other regions.  That is why it is virtually certain we will redeploy a significant number of forces from Iraq in 2006 and more will follow in 2007."


[ Parent ]
More Specifics on Diplomacy, Please (0.00 / 0)
As far as I can tell, even the Republicans agree that the US military is not the sole solution for Iraq - diplomacy is needed - they all (even Bush) say that, and the Democratic candidates that answered here are no different.

Richardson gives the answer that I want to hear - everyone out, ASAP.  I haven't got a clue what "infrastructure" the US might have in Iraq that bears any serious "protection".  The Green Zone should be dismantled right along with the 14 permanent military bases.

We need more detail as to HOW this diplomacy will be conducted.  What can the US bring to the table that will entice the neighboring countries to help stabilize Iraq?  Who will head such diplomatic efforts?  Tony Blair??!!  What are the goals in Iraq?  A democratic state? A stable dictatorship?  A theocracy that has promised to root out Al-Qaida?  I know we cannot KNOW what will be in 2 years - but what do they EXPECT to see in 2 years?  What will they accept?

Perhaps you will scream, "its too early to talk about details and cabinets!".  But, that's what this issue requires.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

I don't like the foundation of this thread (0.00 / 0)
The implication is that you have to be running for President for it to matter what your position on Iraq is. The race for the White House is a side show from the real crisis that is happening in Washington right now. Online punditry that focuses on that sideshow does serious harm in terms of making a positive impact on the real world problems that need to be resolved long before 2009.

We won control of Congress. We should act like it.

The fact that there is no consensus for resolution in Iraq from the Democratic leadership is a very real problem. Everyone wants to be a star. Everyone knows all the answers. Everyone is a genius. We don't need geniuses, we need closers.

When I have time to worry about the race for the White House my vote will be based upon what they do now, NOT what they promise me they will do in some hypothetical future date.

Interesting ... (0.00 / 0)
I think it's critically important to have the candidates - and our sitting congress answer this question. We've had a series of bills that claim to "get us out of Iraq" but all of which leave "residual forces." They also prohibit permanent bases yet we are building and paying for those bases right now but no one seems willing to conduct oversight.

While clearly no one planning on residual troops can give a precise number, we have heard estimates from "thousands" to 70,000 and that's a lot of wiggle room. At minimum, they should provide us with details of the missions they would maintain and the scale of force size.

The plan to leave residual troops also shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the occupation. It assumes that we have a right to have troops there at all.

Gov Richardson has said that the only troops he would leave would be the standard force required to protect an embassy - period. And that is the only answer that actually is responsive to the requirements of international law.

I have not chosen a candidate but I am am extremely disappointed with the willingness of so many of them to continue the occupation, even on a smaller scale - and their unwillingness to step up and tell us what they really plan rather than try to sell platitudes.


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