Clinton Supporter O'Hanlon On Iraq and Electoral Strategy

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Oct 17, 2007 at 15:36

The blogosphere knows Michael O'Hanlon as a liberal hawk who has supported Bush's escalation in Iraq in the most public way possible. What the blogosphere is somewhat less aware of is that Michael O'Hanlon is one of the major foreign policy advisors to Hillary Clinton's campaign (UPDATE: O'Hanlon is not on the paid staff of the Clinton campaign in any way. He seems to be simply a supporter with an informal role that many higher ups in Democratic politics have on many campaigns. The line between adviser and informal supporter is not always clear, however). Now, wink wink nudge nudge, he is praising the three Democratic frontrunners for their flexibility on Iraq:

The top three Democratic White House hopefuls have faced withering criticism for refusing to commit to withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq by 2013, the end of the next presidential term. But at least one prominent war proponent is commending Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards for their newfound "flexibility."

Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution and ubiquitous voice on Iraq war policy, spoke favorably of the Democratic frontrunners' recent statements on Iraq. In an interview with the Huffington Post, he touted the top-tier candidates for waiting to see the complete fallout of the President Bush's troop surge and for not committing to a war policy more than a year in advance.

"There is still fifteen months before [Clinton, Obama or Edwards] will be President. It's just factual that they cannot predict exactly what they are going to do in Iraq," O'Hanlon said. "I think the Democratic position allows all three of the top people to move in the Republican direction if things move around in the next twelve months... Clearly they aren't likely to do that unless things get dramatically better."

Which, wink wink nudge nudge, sounds almost exactly like Hillary Clinton (and Barack Obama) when asked about residual forces:

The leading Democratic White House hopefuls conceded Wednesday night they cannot guarantee to pull all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the end of the next presidential term in 2013.

"I think it's hard to project four years from now," said Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois in the opening moments of a campaign debate in the nation's first primary state.

"It is very difficult to know what we're going to be inheriting," added Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

"I cannot make that commitment," said former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

Clearly, Michael O'Hanlon's position is widespread among Democratic foreign policy circles. Clinton and Obama sound exactly like him, in particular. It is also reminiscent of another one of Clinton's senior foreign policy advisors prominent but informal supporters, Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, who stated that she didn't think Clinton was against the war. Advisors like O'Hanlon and Kennedy have more say over Democratic foreign policy than do tens of millions of Americans combined. They also have more say than the entire Democratic primary electorate, since it appears that Democratic primary voters don't care about details like these when it comes to Iraq (yes, that statement was as bitter as it seemed).

This rather overt, elite fueled non-opposition to the war from leading Democratic contenders is of course extremely disturbing. However, there is another aspect of it that is almost as disturbing. Once again, every single centrist or right-wing idea put out by someone in the DLC-nexus is framed not as the right thing to do, but instead as something that can help Democrats be elected (emphasis mine):

O'Hanlon -- whose New York Times op-ed with colleague Ken Pollack, entitled "A War We Might Just Win," was promoted enthusiastically by supporters of Bush's strategy -- acknowledged that his own views on Iraq fall well to the "right" of the Democratic field. But he praised the presidential frontrunners for resisting a firm pledge on Iraq withdraw, something consistently favored by the majority of Americans in public opinion polls.

"The only thing that would have concerned me would have been a repeat of 2003, where the populist's message of 'get out now' would overtake the Democratic Party... And low and behold we get to the election and Iraq is looking better and low and behold the Democrats lose the election," said O'Hanlon, who has given modestly in the 2008 cycle - two $200 contributions earlier this year to Senator Hillary Clinton.

Winning the election is the only thing that concerns him on Iraq? This is a consistent pattern whenever DLC-nexus types are discussing policy of any sort. First and foremost, the policy is couched in terms of how it will help Democrats win elections.  I have been documenting this for a long time. It is demonstrative of just how ideological bankrupt that wing of the party actually is: winning is all that matters.

And they suck at winning, too. It is actually hysterical to see O'Hanlon talk about his only concern being to win the election and, in the same paragraph, talk about the need to resist a "populist's message" in order to do so. Mind-blowing. Someone please explain to me how someone wins an election by shunning popular messages, while simultaneously stating, in public, that their policy positions are created in order to win elections. People love it when you intentionally avoid popular positions, and then tell them that you hold your positions in order to win elections. If someone can think of a dumber and more self-defeating electoral strategy, I'd like to hear it.

Oh wait-I guess it would be dumber to say that you oppose withdrawing troops from Iraq altogether. Even the crappy message I outlined above can beat that one. And thus, many Democrats continue to win despite themselves.

Update: Post updated since O'Hanlon is not on the Clinton campaign's paid staff. However, I still say the relationship between many of these policy types and campaigns is murky, to say the least.

Chris Bowers :: Clinton Supporter O'Hanlon On Iraq and Electoral Strategy

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In the Rassmussen Poll (0.00 / 0)
in Iowa, there was one piece of data showing an enourmous potential vulnerability for Hillary:

Ninety percent (90%) of the caucus Democrats want to see troops home from Iraq within a year. That figure includes 34% who want the troops withdrawn immediately.


It is not surprising to see O'Hanlon blur the lines on the date for withdrawl from Iraq - his candidate's views are at fundemental odds with the base.

What is so surprising to me is that there is no real anti-Hillary effort among the netroots yet.  The Clintons do not share the worldview of the anti-war Democrats.  In fact they began their national careers as part of the DLC get tough crowd.

And yet resignation seems to be the order of the day.

I've pushed this as hard as I can (4.00 / 1)
I've pushed this issue about as hard as a blogger can push an issue. I even appeared in a television commercial on the subject. But it really doesn't seem to be making an impact.

Part of the problem, as I often note, is that Obama holds virtually the same position. Edwards has pushed the issue from time to time, but accepting public financing combined with saying he can't promise to have all troops out of Iraq by 2013 isn't helping.

Like I said, I've pushed as hard as I can on this, but I don't feel like it is making an impact. and much of the problems rests with the other candidates.

[ Parent ]
I wrote that comment (0.00 / 0)
and thought immediately that I should make it clear it was not directed at you.

And then work intervened. 

Your work on Iraq and the residual force issue has been great. You are the exception here.

You wrote earlier today about the pundits and their role in the GOP primary process.  In some ways I think it has been self destructive, but in another way it has showed the power of the far right.  The Parties are defined in the fights for their nominations.  In those fights the right has not been shy about taking the GOP establishment on.  In doing so they have flexed their muscles, and held their ultimate nominees far more accountable to them than liberals have been able to hold the Democrats.

2008 presents an interesting test case:  the far right sees Rudy is out of step with them.  All you have to do to see this is to read Redstate.  Liberals and Progressives know, I think, that Hillary is out of step with them.

Question: who will be more successful in imposing their views on the nominee: the far right in the GOP or liberals in the Democratic Party?

Right now I just don't see the fight among liberals to do what is required to hold the Democrats accountable. 

And I will be damned if I understand it.

[ Parent ]
Don't worry about public financing when we have 527s (0.00 / 0)
I don't get why people are so worried about the public financing -- money that wants to support John Edwards will still be able to do so through 527 groups. 

The restrictions on coordination and on saying the phrase "vote for so-and-so" didn't stop VoteVets from putting up excellent ads in 2006 or stop the Swift Boat Liars from making the most powerful ads of 2004.  I'm a lot happier with the money going to these groups, which can run brutal negative ads that Edwards won't be accountable for, than with the money going to the Edwards campaign. 


[ Parent ]
State meeting of Washington Democratic Party (0.00 / 0)
earlier this month unanimously approved resolution calling for NO funding for the Iraq "war" (occupation) until a date is set for full withdrawal of U.S. troops. (I think that it said "full withdrawal", but I don't have the material handy. I'll check it tonight, and, if I'm wrong, I will update this.) So - another indication of the party base's opinion on the matter.

By the way - did I mention that I'm running for president?

[ Parent ]
Say WHAT? (0.00 / 0)
What is so surprising to me is that there is no real anti-Hillary effort among the netroots yet.

  There's a HUGE anti-Hillary movement afoot in the netroots, and it's been there for months if not years.

  The problem is that the message isn't getting out to the low-information voters who pull the levers in primaries.

  And like Chris said, the other candidates aren't doing much to point out just what a problem she is. Obama in particular has been extremely disappointing in his refusal to differentiate himself from her.


"We judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their actions. It is a great convenience." -- Howard Zinn

[ Parent ]
I love how (0.00 / 0)
his qualification for being quoted is that he's "a ubiquitous voice" on Iraq.

All it takes to be quoted a lot is to be quoted a lot.  All it takes to be an expert is for the papers to put expert before your name.  All it takes to be right is to repeat yourself enough times that people believe you.

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

Chris you are right

I cannot believe how politically tone deaf both Edwards and Obama are on the Iraq war.

They deserve to lose if they cannot promise to remove all troops from Iraq by the end of their first term.

In that NH debate they gave the election to Clinton with their statements.

I just donot know what one can do about this foreign policy establishment take on the Iraq war. Thank god for the protestor's in the Vietnam era or we would still be in Vietnam.

[ Parent ]
So he's the Paris Hilton of foreign policy "experts"? (0.00 / 0)
I.e. an expert because everyone keeps referring to him as one? Ugh.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
Apparently you are unaware that.... (0.00 / 0)

O'Hanlon has nothing to do whatsoever with The Hill's campaign! Such was the verdict at the end of a day long pie-fight in the Land of Orange. See, Hillary supporters, like Obamaites, are not influenced by the facts. They are only interested in how they see things.

Worrisome actually as they most nearly resemble, in a swarming such as just happened over at OrangeLand, the hordes of low-info folks from the Reich.

The issues you raise in this post will be something to watch insofar as not only regarding the general public's discovering The Hill's policy on Iraq but the blogosphere's as well.

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

A plan for withdrawal - (0.00 / 0)
(you can't change a plan, unless you have a plan). Here's a draft that I have published previously (withdrawal by date-certain is understood):

1) All U.S. troops redeploy to the 5 main U.S. bases in Iraq and enhance the security arrangements around these bases;
1a) all native Iraqis who request asylum are moved to these bases;
1b) all troops not necessary to support those 5 bases begin departure sequence from al Asad air base;

2) All U.S. "contractors" redeploy to temporary camp in Saudi Arabia (if not permitted, then Jordan);
2a) all non-U.S. citizens in "contractors" role are given commercial airplane tickets to their home country;
2b) all U.S. citizens in these roles are ferried back to the U.S. via chartered flights, paid for by "contractor" companies;

3) All non-essential and low-security-listed material is left in place for local Iraqis to expropriate;
3a) all weaponry and ammunition are collected and warehoused in one, remote but secure, corner of al Asad air base for transport to U.S.;
3b) all mine-detection devices, tools, construction equipment and material, and medical equipment are left for local Iraqis to expropriate;

4) Organize council including Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraqi Sunni, and Iraqi Shi'a to discuss/negotiate political arrangement for southern provinces;

5) Organize council including Turkey, Turkomen, Iran, and Iraqi Kurds to discuss/negotiate political arrangement for northern provinces;

6) Ask U.N. to hold advisory conference on Iraq situation to obtain viewpoints of all interested parties;

7) When treaties or constitutions or arrangements acceptable to the 3 main ethnic/sectarian divisions in Iraq are formalized (in context of date-certain withdrawal deadline), begin the full withdrawal of all U.S. military personnel back to the U.S.
7a) native Iraqis who request asylum are processed for immigration to the U.S. on an expedited basis;
7b) all stored weapons and ammunition are transported to the U.S.;
7c) the U.S. bases are turned over to the authorities for the region in which they are located;
7d) the U.S. budgets for grants/reparations to the Iraq entity or entities that emerge from the agreements.

I realize that your post is a rant about the divide between the party "leaders" and the base, but I like to get concrete about the key issue whenever possible.

By the way - did I mention that I'm running for president?

Our candidates are afraid to take a leap of faith (0.00 / 0)
I think they fear being outflanked somehow by Bush on troop levels in Iraq.  Seymor Hersh came out the other day and implied that Bush and the GOP might throw out a "big" number next summer about troops leaving Iraq, neutering and blurring the Democrats position on Iraq.  But this fear is beyond stupid, cause we know what Bush fears is that he'll look like he capitulated to the publics and the Democrats demands, ala the surge, the exact opposite of the wishes of the electorate and the Democrats. 
The simple retort of the Democrats is thank you Mr. Bush for taking our position, that of the Democrats, the surge was successful irregardless.  and repeat that over and over, to the disdain of Bush.
It's true that one can't know what they will inherit but what ever that may be, it does not preclude them from pledging to remove all troops from Iraq as quickly and orderly as possible.
"Low and behold, Iraq is getting better"? How about, take a principled stand and build a constituency around that position.  Edwards and Obama is trying to stake out that position.  Clinton is trying to triangulate a pliable electorate.  Look, for me and I bet alot of voters is that we don't know how to fix Iraq but for god sakes get our troops out of there, it's continuing a mistake.

Like you said, they suck at winning and they are endangering a progressive realignment that the country desperately needs.

Flexibility (0.00 / 0)
I know it won't be popular here, but I do think that the candidates should maintain some flexibility.  Not for the reasons mentioned by O'Hanlon though.  Frankly I prefer candidates who don't make promises that they are not sure they are going to keep and it may be that they decide that some troops are required to ease the transition to a sovereign Iraq.

The most likely scenario for that in my opinion is an international coalition of nations maintaining some sort of peace accord.  We cannot negotiate for something like that if we have promised to remove all of our troops by 2013.  Currently we are part of the problem and should withdraw, but it is conceivable that we could become part of the solution.

The current problem in my opinion is that we are occupiers with all the trappings of settling in for the long haul.  The promise I would ask for is no permanent bases.

My job is not to represent Washington to you, but to represent you to Washington- Obama
Philly for Obama

In essence I agree with this (0.00 / 0)
I.e. don't firmly commit to something that you might not be able to live up to--i.e. no more "read my lips", which was a disaster for Bush I. Something can always come up that makes 2013 impossible no matter what the intention. But they could have at least said something to the effect that, barring the unforseen and unforseeable, they were firmly committed to, and intended to, withdraw all US troops from Iraq well before 2013 except for those guarding the US embassy (who technically aren't even in Iraq when on duty).

Ehud Barack did this in Israel, and followed through with it. What's the problem now, when the country WANTS us to get out? Then again, maybe they took the wrong lesson from Barack, who, after withdrawing Israel from Lebanon and trying to make peace with Arafat, lost the next election. There are consequences for being a dove, it seems, and they don't want to find out the hard way. Never mind that the politics of this favor them--and never mind the principle being right. They are operating out of fear, which doesn't help the thinking.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
"Reality" vs. "popular" (0.00 / 0)
A very insightful observation. Your only flaw is to try to call for a sensible explanation of something that defies rationality. The current acceptable frame for political discourse in this country is that a compromising, "centrist" position is the only one that is perceived to be serious. It doesn't seem to matter that the positions on the right-wing side are so outlandish--invading and occupying countries that haven't attacked us, secretly incarcerating people and torturing them, spying on American citizens without warrant, etc.--that any compromise at all is a complete sell-out of traditional American democratic values. This is the "reality" that Ron Suskind told us that the Republicans were creating: not one based on "judicious study of discernible reality," but one based on the repetition of lies. Senator Clinton and her supporters have accepted this frame.

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

I dunno... (0.00 / 0)
...Edwards said in so many words on 'Nice Polite Republicans' that:

He would remove all combat troops from Iraq. Leaving only SECURITY TROOPS FOR OUR EMBASSY THERE.

That's it. Period.

Oh...yeah...he said that AFTER he said this:

"I cannot make that commitment," said former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

in a radio interview I heard last week, cannot find it on the excreble NPR site they do blow goats, but here is JRE's statement from his website:


I'd say this is quite different from Hillarybama.

And he'd do in 9 to 10 months.

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

I'm guessing that some of these people (0.00 / 0)
not all, or even most, but SOME, have simply mindlessly and unquestioningly bought into this mantra for so many years that they assume that it's just the way things work--even though recent history kind of proves that they DON'T work. At this point it's clear to most of us that this is a stupid (not to mention unprincipled) way to do politics. But what's clear to us isn't necessarily that clear to people who live and operate within a social and professional bubble, which is an echo chamber for demonstrably bad and stupid ideas.

Not that stupid makes one any more fit to be in office. But I'm not sure that it's always being unprincipled that makes Dems support such policies. Some of them are just dumb, or at least mentally lazy. As anyone who heard Herb Kohl literally read off a list of questions to Mukasey today in his confirmation hearing, like he was a passport agent asking an 80 year old woman pro forma questions to make sure that she wasn't a terrorist.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

It is what people want (0.00 / 0)
They also have more say than the entire Democratic primary electorate, since it appears that Democratic primary voters don't care about details like these when it comes to Iraq (yes, that statement was as bitter as it seemed).

Its not that the democratic public doesn't care.  Its that the public actively agrees with not making a commitment while saying that they want to leave.

Another thing the frontrunners have in common (0.00 / 0)
None of the frontrunners, or Bill Richardson, displays any understanding of what it will take to get out of Iraq.  Pat Lang has some thoughts about logistics that are worth pondering. Do we really want to race for the exits and leave all that equipment that was so desperately needed during Katrina behind? And if we don't want to be lifting people off the roof of the embassy with helipcopters, we should plan for getting people out who have helped us and will be killed for their trouble, if they haven't been already.

And what about the Iraqis who have not helped us, but whose world has become a nightmare of killing thanks to what we have done to that country?  The only candidate who shows any substantive interest in them is Joe Biden.  Plan for Iraq proposes one final effort to propose, not impose, a political solution:  a weak central government in a federal system, to separate the parties in the civil war and stop the killing.  If the Iraqis refuse to move toward a political settlement, then he said in the Dartmouth debate that he would begin immediate withdrawal in January 2009.

It is clear that Bush will not end the war, and that he intends to give us more of the same.  One of the Democratic candidates will inherit the war 14 months from now.  Clinton  seems more inclined to support another war than end the one we have, with her vote on the Kyl-Lieberman amendment. 


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