Friday, September 28, 2007


I admit I'm somewhat sympathetic to the reasons why candidates aren't willing to make complete guarantees in response to stupid Tim Russert questions about the state of play in Iraq in 2013. For one, there are the general rules of serious foreign policy in which no war is off the table any time. But more importantly it is true that no one can predict the future, and for all we know Iraq might be invaded by Martian bears or something in the next few months. I'm being somewhat flippant, but what I mean is that the world could be, for whatever reason, extraordinarily different in January 2009 and thus precomitting oneself to any course of action, no matter how much it seems like the correct one given current reality and expectations, might not feel right.

Of course I'm also quite sympathetic to Eugene Robinson's view:

In geopolitical terms, I think the answer they all gave is wrong; I think this represents the same kind of old-paradigm thinking about foreign policy and America's role in the world that all three candidates claim to reject. In just-plain-political terms, I think such temporizing -- delivered with furrowed brow and an air of wise gravitas -- is, at the very least, unwisely premature. The time for a Democratic candidate to start taking the antiwar vote for granted and scurrying toward an imagined "center" is after securing the nomination, not before. Democratic primary voters are smart enough to recognize the difference between saying you oppose the war and pledging to end it.

I'm also wondering what leads anyone to think that by the time the general election campaign gets underway, anything short of a clear promise to pull the plug on George W. Bush's debacle will look like a centrist position. By then, "U.S. troops out in a year" may look like the height of caution.

With all due respect to Clinton, we have a pretty good idea of what the next president will inherit. I can't imagine that at this point anyone thinks Bush -- who still thinks he's a latter-day Churchill -- is going to change his mind or his basic policy in Iraq. We'll roll into 2008 with a bigger U.S. presence in Iraq than we had at the beginning of 2007, and even if Bush agrees to a series of token withdrawals -- necessitated by the fact that we're running out of soldiers, Marines and guardsmen to send -- it's almost certain that on Election Day we'll still have well over 100,000 U.S. troops bogged down in the sands of Mesopotamia.

Hopefully Robinson mentally boldfaced the imagined in the phrase imagined "center." Given the scare quotes, I imagine he did.