This evening I was looking around for information on public opinion comparing the 40K-60K plans endorsed by most of the Democratic presidential field and most Democrats in Congress, and plans to remove all troops except those to protect the embassy. While I did not find what I was looking for, I instead found something much better. Back in July, Diageo / Hotline produced a poll (PDF, relevant material starts on page 11) asking rank and file Democrats what they thought Clinton, Edwards and Obama were proposing for Iraq. The question was phrased as follows:
Now I’m going to read you a list of people, organizations. For each person or organization, please tell me which of the following four choices comes closest to what you think their view is on what the U.S. should do in Iraq?
And they gave the following options:
Make no cutbacks in U.S. troops in Iraq
Leave a substantial number of troops in Iraq, but have
them concentrate on training Iraqis and targeting Al Qaeda leaders in Iraq.
Start withdrawing troops within the next three months, with all troops out within nine months from now.
Begin an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops in Iraq
While these plans do not exactly matchup with existing Democratic plans on Iraq, they are pretty close. Biden, Clinton, Dodd, and Obama basically support option #2, Richardson and Kucinich support some combination of options #3 and #4, and Edwards is something of a hybrid between #2, #3 and #4. Here is what self-identified Democrats thought the three “top” contenders for the nomination were proposing:
What Democrats Think Clinton, Edwards and Obama will do in Iraq
Now, option #2 is almost precisely what Clinton and Obama support, although I imagine they would quibble with the use of the term “substantial” in the question. However, only 10% of Democrats properly identify their plan for Iraq as such. Overwhelming majorities of Democrats, 76% and 71% for Clinton and Obama respectively, think that Clinton and Obama will engage in much more thorough withdrawal from Iraq than their plans actually indicate. Why do Democrats think that Clinton and Obama will withdraw all troops in nine months, when they have both clearly stated that they are actually in favor of option #2? Probably because Clinton and Obama keep saying that they will end the war, but rarely mention that they want to keep some forces in Iraq to, as Obama says on this website:
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.
(1) That a phased redeployment of United States military forces from Iraq has begun, in a manner consistent with any limitations on aid for Iraq for security purposes in effect under section 4, including the transition of United States forces in Iraq to the limited presence and mission of-
(A) training Iraqi security forces;
(B) providing logistic support of Iraqi security forces;
(C) protecting United States personnel and infrastructure; and
(D) participating in targeted counter-terrorism activities.
I wonder what the rank and file would think of Clinton and Obama if they knew that they actually supported option #2. I wonder how much it would change the campaign, especially since Edwards proposes a more thorough withdrawal, and Richardson supports an even more thorough withdrawal than Edwards. There are some indications that it could change the campaign dramatically. For example, most Democrats are aware that options #1 and #2 are more hawkish, as a majority attribute option #1 to Bush, and a plurality attribute option #2 to McCain and Romney (even though, of course, McCain and Romney actually support position #1). Then again, a plurality of Democrats disturbingly think that Rudy Giuliani supports option #3.
The lack of voter education on presidential candidate plans for Iraq is both breathtaking and frightening. Unless something changes in the next few months, voters will be in for a rude awakening when they find out that virtually every candidate for President with a real chance of becoming the nominee of either major party, save possibly Edwards and definitely save Richardson, are way more hawkish on Iraq than they are believed to be. Democratic voters might be in for a particularly rude awakening in the general election, or at least some point in 2009, when they find out the candidate they nominated is actually in favor of keeping a substantial number of troops in Iraq.
If Democratic voters become aware of candidate plans for Iraq, and still end up nominating someone who favors a substantial residual force to train Iraqi security and conduct counter-terrorism, I can live with that, even if I will work against it. However, if Democrats end up nominating a candidate who supports a substantial residual forces plan while thinking that candidate will actually withdraw virtually all troops in a short period of time, then basically our party will have been hoodwinked in a manner not unlike the way the war was first sold to the American public back in 2002 and 2003. While that will be incredibly depressing and infuriating, it also won’t be that much of a huge surprise. After all, most of the Democratic foreign policy elite behind the substantial residual forces plan actually helped sell the Iraq war before it began. The obfuscation used to continue American military involvement in Iraq never ceases, and it seems the players involved never change.