The Democrats’ inevitable disappointment over Iraq

A president's ideological orientation is of no matter. America's strategic interests will remain the same.

The Democratic Party has been riding the wave of anti-Bush sentiment this election season. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have pledged to bring troops home by the end of 2009. Likewise, every conceivable economic ill to date is apparently linked to the war. Nonsense. A financial market crisis is in no way linked to the publicly funded War. Both candidates are very intelligent people, yet they continue to spoon-feed demagoguery to the populace. By definition, politicians are required to sometimes say ridiculous things. They should not about the war, as it puts the Democrats in a precarious position.

The discussion about Iraq is largely centered on its false pretext. Yet, in discussing the best way to move forward and end the war, such an observation is about as useful as noting the difficulty in playing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” with a pair of spoons. Surely a consensus is needed over Iraq’s faults before progress is made? No. For one, it is fundamentally illiberal that a beautifully pluralistic society be expected to somehow form a homogenous opinion. Some supported the war initially, and some still do. Let them. Furthermore, the deceptiveness of the War’s “casus belli” and its poor execution is pretty well publicly distributed. What informational saturation point does American society need to reach before the present can be made more moment than the past?

Ending an occupation is no simple task. By destroying Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime, George Bush destroyed any semblance of Iraqi nationalism, the sole unifying force in an ethnically diverse country. The sectarian conflict that has been seen is a direct result. The arbitrary nature of Middle Eastern borders means there are many states but few nations. Iraq’s contiguous neighbors are forced into the conflict through various ethnic and religious ties, as well as old-fashioned power politics. A failed Iraq state will draw in the whole region, and inevitably America, who cannot afford a full-fledged war in that neighborhood (few countries could, as it happens). What is the next American President to do?

For starters, focus on leaving Iraq in a state that would not necessitate re-engagement. Democracy should not be the goal, but stability. It was absolutely irresponsible for the war to have started in the first place. It is just as irresponsible to prematurely withdraw. That would be nothing more than reverse-Rumsfeldian thinking, applying an ideological solution to a painfully complex problem. Indeed, it would just be another form of unilateralism. What the next president needs to do most, however, is educate the American public.

Both Clinton and Obama promise to begin ending the war immediately upon taking office. A simple online search of their policies reveals otherwise. Obama’s plan would remove most of the combat troops at the soonest of 16 months, and allows for indefinite pauses in withdrawal based on the situation on the ground. Also, a cadre of special operations bases would be left in Iraq for the foreseeable future to deal with al-Qaida-based threats. Clinton, at the soonest, would be mostly withdrawn by 2013. Surely, their supporters are aware of this?

Such details are omitted from stump speeches. Do the candidates and their foreign policy panjandrums believe the common man too ignorant to understand the nuances of international relations? Is the average American too unwilling to address the inconveniences of reality? It is likely both, to some extent anyway. Either way, the Democratic candidates will fail to fulfill their promises on Iraq.

Every government endures the arduous task of balancing domestic pressures with foreign ones (though Dick Cheney still makes his go at avoiding it). Many American and foreign onlookers dream of a president that reclaims America’s role as global leader and abandons the imperious course Bush has set. Indeed, no matter what candidate is elected (even John McCain), they have the benefit of not being Bush. That alone will help repair America’s image. Many other things can and must be done, from addressing climate change to closing Guantanamo Bay. But a president’s ideological orientation is of no matter, and America’s strategic interests will always remain the same. That means the Iraq War will not soon go away. Many foreigners will be furious, but it is a joke that they need be reminded that the American President serves American interests, not any other. And Iraq’s fate is inextricably tied to America’s future image.

The Surge’s “success” has changed the war’s narrative in Washington, and the withdrawal movement has lost much of its momentum. The belief that withdrawal will force political reconciliation is no more valid than the concern it would facilitate greater ethnic cleansing. Much of the sheer numbers of Democratic supporters are made up of more disillusioned independents and moderate Democrats than ideologically pure Democrats. The inaction of the Democratic Congress over the war is indicative of a party divided on what to do about Iraq. You may rest assured, dearest readers, that if party in-fighting breaks out over the war (and it likely will amid serious talks of withdrawal), the moderates will win.

Americans need to ponder the least bad way to leave Iraq, rather than assume it is either “withdraw now” or “stay for 100 years.” In doing so, a more enlightened discussion is needed. Leaders such as Obama and Clinton must drive it. Populism will only get the Democrats so far. They need to stop digressing into Bush-bashing as a way of avoiding the harsh realities of the War. Real questions about Iraq are bound to be hard. For god’s sake, answer them.

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