Part of the Democratic base is in for a bitter disappointment

Flash forward to January 2009, and what do you see? Here’s what I see — a profoundly disaffected portion of the Democratic base.

They’ll either be furious because the GOP will have won the White House for another four years, or furious because a Democrat won, and yet we still have troops in Iraq.

Now mind you, I’m basing this on my assumption that neither Dennis Kucinich, Ron Paul nor Mike Gravel is president. Indulge me in this for a moment, if you will.

If you look at comments by responsible, grownup-type Democratic elected officials in response to the Petraeus testimony, you get respectful quibbling over matters of degree — maybe we should draw down a little more quickly, or some such.

It’s only among the unelected professional whack jobs out there whipping up the grass roots that you hear Let’s pull every last American in uniform out of Iraq yesterday!

This is a disconnect that could have serious repercussions, not only for the Democratic party, but for the country.

The problem is that Democratic elected officials, who know better, have thought they had to humor the more excitable antiwar folks up to now, and have never felt like they could say, Hold on, folks — what you’re asking for is completely unrealistic. Think what you want about the decision to go into Iraq — and I’m with you that that was a bad call — but now that we’re there we’re stuck with this problem on our hands for some time to come.

The only way to avoid the crash between reality and expectations that I predicted at the top of this post will be if some of the top Democrats start leveling more along those lines. If not, look for a real mess in 2009.

12 thoughts on “Part of the Democratic base is in for a bitter disappointment

  1. Bill Moore

    There is only one chance to assure an end to the war. Vote for Ron Paul in the primary. If you’re a Democrat register as a Republican (I know…how weird would that be), vote for Ron Paul in the primary and switch back after. No matter which Democrat wins, they will be against the war.
    Then after the primaries it will be a foregone conclusion that the war will end in 2009 and the military can plan accordingly. And we can get on with looking at our domestic issues.

  2. Karen McLeod

    Brad, What I’m looking for, at least, is someone with a new mindset, who will look at the situation and try to figure out the best policy given the actual situation. What is the best way to deal with Iraqi sectarianism? Partition? Training? Harsh control (similar to what Hussein was up to)? Build infrastructure? And how does this fit into the surrounding political scene? Iran would love to go into Iraq, and if Iraq is controlled by the Shia, the country might well welcome partying with Iran. Threatening Iran will not help at all. Meanwhile, we are perceived as being brutal (thankyou, so much, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, et. al) invader. It makes it very hard for us to build consensus. Is there a way that will help us to be seen in better light? We trashed the Iraqis country; they have the right for us to tidy up afterwards, but if we are perceived as having a hidden (or not so hidden) agenda, are they willing to accept our help? I think that persons who are not of the same party as our current president have a better chance of establishing credibility than even a very good republican, but whomsoever wins the white house needs to be someone who can clearly perceive reality, and honestly state our goals and intentions.

  3. Justin

    Well, I think we need to start having discussions about why it is in fact a bad idea to leave as soon as possible. I don’t like these empty statements about a power-vacuum, terrorist proliferation, and the death of Israel – we should not base our decisions on simple conjecture. There are however some questions we really should be asking. Does it serve American interests to stay in Iraq? Will more lives be lost by staying or leaving? What are the goals of our current war? Are we any safer as a result of staying? Why should we sacrifice American lives for the simple notion that we MIGHT be increasing security in another country? Where does the $300B annual cost come from?
    Iraq has had elections, has a government, a constitution, a military and a police force. What do we require in order to exit? Bush declared mission accomplished years ago. It’s not as if we are leaving infants to fend for themselves in the wild. Are we waiting for the country to adopt English as its primary language and start watching reality TV and Nick at Night reruns before we decide to leave? We are not “stuck” with anything and have no obligation to do more than we already have. I don’t know about you, but I am not inclined to spend hundreds of billions dollars and risk our soldiers and security on poor intelligence. We have made that mistake once, may we all learn from it.

  4. Clovis

    Our presence in Iraq or any part of that peninsula stirs up the hornets nest. I think it is important to understand this. Suicide terrorism is a direct result of foreign occupation on their (the collective) land. A better understanding of why suicide terrorism exists is to read this brief interview by the author of The Logic of Suicide Terrorism, Professor Robert Pape.
    Incredibly enlightening. I think it is important, first and foremost, to understand those who call us enemy and what motivates them.

  5. Li

    I am a US soldier, and Iraq war vet scheduled to go back in 2009, and not a “professional nut job”. I think we SHOULD pull all troops out immediately–we soldiers accomplished the missions given to us, don’t change the mission on us now, especially under Bush’s leadership. His complete lack of experience and understanding on foreign policy matters before being elected has shown through time and again during his presidency, and we soldiers have paid the highest price for his blunders. Yet we accomplished our mission anyway: verified there were no WMD’s, that our country was perfectly safe, and we got rid of Hussein. I personally build polling stations for Iraq (I am an Army engineer). Our mission is done, now we are merely dying while fighting another country’s civil war. Pull us out, now, so we can prepare for other threats facing our nation (S. Korea, Iran, Al Qaeda, etc).

  6. Doug Ross

    General Petraeus was asked a question by Senator John Warner in his Senate hearing testimony:
    “Does the [Iraq war] make America safer?”
    Petraeus replied, “I don’t know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind.”
    Well, if he doesn’t know (or care to know), why are we there???

  7. Shawn

    No more war for oil, military bases, or to save face. Over a hundred thousand Iraqi’s have died, over a hundred thousand maimed, and over two million have fled their homes.
    Think about those numbers. Think about how many families have been destroyed. How do those widows and orphans feel about America? No wonder our intelligence community has overwhelmingly concluded the war is breeding more terrorists and extremists. No wonder the majority of Iraqis want us out of their country.
    To militarily solve this problem for the entire country will require a draft, an occupying force of 250,000 or more, occupation through 2030, and trillions of US dollars. Anything less is pointless; a stalling tactic to pass the war on to the next administration, just like Vietnam.
    Even then, there is no guarantee there will be less loss of human life than if we just turned Iraq over to Iraqis today. And no guarantee that if we leave after ten or twenty years that some faction won’t still make a grab for power.
    A democracy lives in the hearts of its citizens. The Iraqi’s were not ready for a revolution, and no matter what kind of government we impose on them, it will not stick until they are ready. That could take generations, and if we’re not willing to stay that long, we should leave now and let them run their own country.

  8. Brad Warthen

    Doug, I think the subtext of the general’s response to that off-the-subject question is, “It’s not my job to know that.” And it isn’t. Petraeus is the kind of guy who WOULD have worked it out, and would have an answer ready, if that were an issue that he was expected to address.
    Shawn, good luck with that “no more war for oil” thing. Until this planet runs on something else, you’ll have as much chance of keeping that promise as the folks on “Dune” had of avoiding wars for spice in that fictional universe.
    It’s an odd thing to wish for, given that the last war we had for oil — the Gulf War of 1991 — is generally regarded as having been worthwhile.
    In any case, it seems a non sequitur to bring it up now, since we’re talking about Iraq.
    Ditto with the “does this make us safer” thing. The United States isn’t going to be “safe” for a long time — another generation or so, if ever. Our actions in Iraq are merely a small part of a much larger, longer struggle to get a different set of dynamics going in that part of the world so that sometime, way down the line, long after we’ve finished worrying about Iraq, maybe someone can say we’re safer. Whether we ever get to that point is called into question by the fact that not enough Americans seem to have a stomach for completing even this one, initial step.
    And what does “complete” look like? Crocker summarized it well, as “A secure, stable democratic Iraq at peace with its neighbors.”

  9. Phillip

    Bravo to Justin, Clovis, and Li for their eloquent statements above. Brad, you may call it quibbling over matters of degree…but this seems pretty straightforward to me. And, though it may seem appalling to you, don’t be so sure that is the position that will prevail in January 2009.
    In any case, as others above have stated, what is coming down the pike (I hope) is a complete reconsideration of the way America conducts its foreign policy, including the fight against terrorism, and this all goes way beyond Iraq.

  10. Phillip

    Somehow the link I had originally posted got altered since I made the link…anyway, here is the real story which is that Obama has staked out a pretty strong position. Even if you account for a certain amount of wiggle room in terms of a redeployment being called a withdrawal, it is certainly not accurate to say that the same outcome (in terms of our presence in Iraq) is inevitable no matter which party wins the Presidency. Keep in mind that several GOP candidates might well favor a speedier withdrawal than they are espousing in the primary season, so perhaps it is the GOP base that will be disappointed.

  11. Brad Warthen

    Maybe I just skimmed to fast and missed this, but where did Obama propose to redeploy them TO? Each time I thought he was going to say, he changed to another point.

    An example:

    All Combat Troops Redeployed by 2009: Barack Obama would immediately begin redeploying American troops from Iraq. The withdrawal would be strategic and phased, directed by military commanders on the ground and done in consultation with the Iraqi government. Troops would be removed from secure areas first, with troops remaining longer in more volatile areas. The drawdown would begin immediately with one to two combat brigades redeploying each month and all troops engaged in combat operations out by the end of next year.

    That was followed by:

    Residual Force to Remain: Under the Obama plan, American troops may remain in Iraq
    or the region. These American troops will protect American diplomatic and military
    personnel in Iraq, and continue striking at al Qaeda in Iraq. If Iraq makes political
    progress and their security forces are not sectarian, we would also continue training othe
    Iraqi Security Forces. In the event of an outbreak of genocide, we would reserve the right
    to intervene, with the international community, if that intervention was needed to provide
    civilians with a safe-haven.

    … which isn’t all that different from what Petraeus has proposed, and Bush endorsed.

    This is reassuring rhetoric to ME, because it means a President Obama wouldn’t go all crazy and abandon Iraq. But it bothers me that he leaves the gaps that he does, such as where the OTHER troops who are not a part of the "residual force" will go. There is an implication that they will go to Afghanistan, but overall I’m not at all sure.

    It bothers me that he’s trying to have it both ways — making it clear to guys like me that he’s not going to abandon Iraq to chaos, while at the same time implying to his base that he’s going to pull our troops the hell out of there — but not exactly saying so. He tries to get by on multiple statements about he was "against it all along," thereby leaving them to fill in the blanks with their assumptions.

    And maybe that’s what a smart, responsible Democrat has to do to get the nomination. It still doesn’t make me comfortable.

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