(6 pm – promoted by ek hornbeck)
Families gathered at the 5th Marine Regiment Memorial Park at Camp Pendleton, Calif.,(right) to spend their last few moments with loved ones before they left for Iraq. Regimental Combat Team 5 left Camp Pendleton on January 3 for their one year deployment to the Al Anbar province of Iraq.– USMC Photo.
While my old regiment ships out again,I have to ask:
Are we headed, as many in the antiwar movement have feared, into an Iraq-free zone during this election season? Have the Dems decided to wait until next year to try to do anything?
Noah Feldman, in last Sunday’s NY Times magazine:
What if the United States were at war during a presidential election – and none of the candidates wanted to talk about it? Iraq has become the great disappearing issue of the early primary season, and if nothing fundamental changes on the ground there – a probable result of current policy – the war may disappear even more completely in the new year…
… elections demand that candidates differentiate themselves, yet various plausible front-runners’ positions on Iraq are not all that far apart. There are subtle differences regarding the completeness and timing of withdrawal: John Edwards, for instance, says he would remove even the troops who are training the Iraqi Army and police. But basically, the leading doves say they want to leave, but not too fast; while the hawks claim they want to stay, but not too long.
This week’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas highlighted what Feldman said. Clinton, Obama and Edwards all offered their nuanced positions, including this clarification of an old question about whether they would have all US troops out by 2013:
(Follow below the fold- ek hornbeck)
RUSSERT: In September, we were in New Hampshire together, and I asked the three of you if you would pledge to have all troops out of Iraq by the end of your first term.
All three of you said, you will not take that pledge. I’m hearing something much different tonight.
OBAMA: No, no, no. There’s nothing different, Tim.
I want to make sure…
OBAMA: No, no. I think this is important because it was reported as if we were suggesting that we would continue the war until 2013. Your question was, could I guarantee all troops would be out of Iraq. I have been very specific in saying that we will not have permanent bases there. I will end the war as we understand it in combat missions.
But that we are going to have to protect our embassy. We’re going to have to protect our civilians. We’re engaged in humanitarian activity there. We are going to have to have some presence that allows us to strike if Al Qaida is creating bases inside of Iraq.
So I cannot guarantee that we’re not going to have a strategic interest that I have to carry out as commander-in-chief to maintain some troop presence there, but it is not going to be engaged in a war and it will not be this sort of permanent bases and permanent military occupation that George Bush seems to be intent on.
CLINTON: It’s not only George Bush.
CLINTON: I just want to add here…
RUSSERT: But you both will have a presence?
CLINTON: Well, I think that what Barack is what John and I also meant at that same time, because, obviously, we have to be responsible, we have to protect our embassy, we do need to make sure that, you know, our strategic interests are taken care of.
But it’s not only George Bush. The Republican candidates running for the presidency are saying things that are very much in line with president Bush.
You know, Senator McCain said the other day that we might have troops there for 100 years, Barack.
I mean, they have an entirely different view than we do about what we need to have happening as soon as we get a Democrat elected president.
RUSSERT: Thirty seconds for Senator Edwards.
EDWARDS: I just want to say, it is dishonest to suggest that you’re not going to have troops there to protect the embassy. That’s just not the truth.
It may be great political theater and political rhetoric, but it’s not the truth.
EDWARDS: There is, however, a difference between us on this issue. And I don’t think it’s subtle. The difference is, I will have all combat troops out in the first year that I’m president, and there will be no further combat missions, and there will be no permanent military bases.
OBAMA: Look, I think it’s important to understand that either you are willing to say that you may go after terrorist bases inside of Iraq if they should form, in which case there would potentially be a combat aspect to that, obviously, or you’re not.
OBAMA: And, you know, if you’re not, then that could present some problems in terms of the long-term safety and security of the United States of America. So I just wanted to make sure that we got that clarification.
EDWARDS: My answer to that is, as long as you keep combat troops in Iraq, you continue the occupation. If you keep military bases in Iraq, you’re continuing the occupation. The occupation must end. As respects Al Qaida, public enemy number one, they’re responsible for about 10 percent of the violence inside Iraq according to the reports.
I would keep a quick reaction force in Kuwait in case it became necessary, but that is different, Barack, than keeping troops stationed inside.
EDWARDS: That is different than keeping troops stationed inside Iraq, because keeping troops stationed inside Iraq — combat troops — and continuing combat missions, whether it’s against Al Qaida or anyone else, at least from my perspective, is a continuation of the occupation. And I think a continuation of the occupation continues the problem, not just in reality, but in perception that America’s occupying the country.
OBAMA: Let me suggest, I think there’s a distinction without a difference here. If it is appropriate for us to keep that strike force outside of Iraq, then that obviously would be preferable.
The point is, at some point you might have that capacity, and that’s the — that’s the clarification I want to make sure…
WILLIAMS: Having come close to settling that, we’re going to take another one of our breaks.
When we come back, we’ll get to some more domestic issues, when we continue live from Las Vegas.
So the issue hasn’t vanished from the debate, at least not yet. If their “distinctions without a difference” become the choice, and all are singing from more or less the same hymnal, the issue will fade away at least until the general election campaign against whichever pro-war candidate the Republicans nominate.
But it’s up to us to make sure the issue remains a live one, and to continue to press the candidates to clarify their commitments to withdrawal.
Otherwise, Feldman’s conclusion in the Times magazine will be prescient:
It is often noted that it can be hard for democracies to fight wars because of changing public opinion. The challenge we face now is what to do when the public has not even been asked what its opinion is. The presidential election is our one chance to put these issues to the democratic test. Otherwise we will be getting a war policy born of neglect – and that will be the policy that we deserve.
Friday is Iraq Moratorium #5. Do something.