Now that it is coming into clearer focus, how does the Clinton plan for Iraq withdrawal compare to other plans? For one, it is very similar to Obama's (emphasis mine):
Senator Obama introduced legislation in January 2007 to offer a responsible alternative to President Bush's failed escalation policy. The legislation commences redeployment of U.S. forces no later than May 1, 2007 with the goal of removing all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008 -- a date consistent with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's expectations. The plan allows for a limited number of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq as basic force protection, to engage in counter-terrorism and to continue the training of Iraqi security forces.
The tasks that Obama lists for American troops to conduct in Iraq are virtually identical to those listed in the Clinton legislation for redeployment, the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, and those proposed by the Center for a New American Security. It appears that both Clinton and Obama would keep 40,000 troops in Iraq for a while if they become President, plus between 6,000 and 20,000 advisors and an always unspecified numbers of private contractors. I actually feel very confident in these numbers at this point, given how they have repeatedly appeared in several sources.
Dodd's plan is also virtually identical to the one proposed by Obama and Clinton (emphasis mine):
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.
Conditionally, Biden supports exactly the same plan, although he estimates 20,000 to 60,000, rather than 40,000 to 60,000 (emphasis mine):
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.
Edwards goes further than Biden, Clinton, Dodd and Obama, citing the protection of American personnel and the American embassy as the only task he would have American troops conduct in Iraq under his presidency: (emphasis mine)
If John Edwards is president, we're not going to leave the American Embassy in Iraq as the only undefended embassy in the world, for example. There will be Marine guards there, just like there are at our embassies in London, Riyadh, and Tokyo. And just the same, if American civilians are providing humanitarian relief to the Iraqi people, we're going to protect them. How in good conscience could we refuse to protect them and then allow humanitarian workers to be at risk for their lives or the work not to happen at all? Finally, it's also Senator Edwards' position that we will have troops in the region to prevent the sectarian violence in Iraq from spilling over into other countries, for counter-terrorism, or to prevent a genocide.
Of course, Bill Richardson goes even further, citing only the protection embassy green zone as a task for American troops to continue to perform in Iraq. Kucinich appears to have a similar plan.
So, here is the quick breakdown for what the Democratic candidates would have American troops do in Iraq if they become President, and how many troops it would require to perform those missions:
- No residual forces outside of embassy protection: Richardson, Kucinich. This would require 5,000 to 10,000 troops, though possibly less, depending on the size of the embassy each would decide to maintain in Iraq.
- Residual forces for embassy and personnel protection: Edwards. This would require between 5,000 and 10,000 troops for the embassy, and probably a similar number outside of the embassy. So, 10,000 to 20,000 seems likely.
- Residual forces for counter-terrorism, Iraqi troop training, personnel protection and embassy protection: Clinton, Dodd and Obama, plus Biden conditionally. This will require roughly 40,000 troops, plus the number of advisors for the Iraqi military, plus an indeterminate amount of
mercenaries private contractors. The Biden plan might require as few as 20,000, depending on the circumstances.
Feel free to make judgments based on this information. I have to admit, given the criteria I laid out for presidential candidates last week, this causes me to swing away from leaning Obama toward leaning Edwards. However, I am still not ready to make an endorsement.