Talkin' trash to the garbage around me.

14 February, 2007

Stopping the war

So now both John Edwards and Barack Obama have comprehensive plans for withdrawing from Iraq. Good on 'em. How do they stack up?

Timeframes: If both proposals became law today, their timeframes would be very similar. Obama has firm dates (out by the end of March 2008, with provisions for extending that time frame and for keeping "a limited number of U.S. troops to remain as basic force protection, to engage in counter-terrorism, and to continue the training of Iraqi security forces.") Edwards, on the other hand, has proposed more vague 12-18 months ("from when?" being the obvious question).

Metrics for progress: Seems like an odd thing to need to discuss when both candidates are calling for withdrawal, but Obama's provisions for extensions beyond the March 31, 2008 deadline are dependent upon the Iraqi government meeting thirteen criteria put forth by the Bush administration. Edwards' approach seems to assume that either a) the political cleavages in Iraq are so sharp that rapprochement in the near-term is highly unlikely and worth the cost in American lives and treasure, or b) that the U.S. presence in Iraq is an actual impediment to any sort of political solution. My hunch is on the former. At any rate, the Edwards plan makes no provisions for "progress" in Iraq.

I actually think this point illuminates some of the stylistic differences between the candidates. Edwards here seems to be playing for the majority of the population who think the situation is hopeless and want withdrawal in the very near future (by the end of year). Obama, on the other hand, appeals to an idealized (if somewhat diminished) notion of American optimism by offering the hope that maybe, just maybe, things might be turned around in Iraq. Populist versus optimist, as it were. Just sayin'...

Diplomacy: I'm shocked, shocked! to discover that both candidates favor intensive regional diplomacy, including talks with Syria and Iran.

Redeploy to where?: Again, both candidates seem to be in agreement. U.S. forces will remain in the region; Edwards is explicit about the military's role in containing the Iraqi civil war within its borders, and both allow for humanitarian interventions and retain the right to intervene to prevent terrorism. I don't know how significant a point this is, but Edwards seems pretty unequivocal in calling for a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces, while Obama's legislation seems to imply that U.S. military personnel would remain to continue to train Iraqi security forces, as well as conduct anti-terrorist operations.

Funding: Here's where the real difference lies. Edwards is calling upon Congress to place funding caps on how many troops it will support (immediately capping it at 100,000 troops). Unfunded troops must be redeployed. Further, Edwards is proposing that military units who do not meet "real readiness standards" cannot be deployed to Iraq. I read the entire text of Obama's bill, but found no mention of funding one way or the other in the bill. As Congress's constitutional power in this matter derives from its power over the appropriations process, it would seem to me that Edwards' proposal has more teeth. I don't know what Senator Obama's actual position on capping funds for the occupation is, but as far as proposals on the table go, Edwards is the one proposing that Congress use its institutional leverage to halt the war.

Edwards obviously has the luxury of not actually holding office with the possibility to vote on his proposal. Obama has the burden of trying to convince 59 of his colleagues to agree with him (or at least agree enough to prevent a filibuster). Differences in proposals aside, there's a potential win for the public here. The Edwards campaign is asking folks to contact their Congresscritters to push for the details in his proposal. Let's just crawl into our happy fantasyland bubble here and pretend that the calls generated by Edwards' call to action moves Congress past the tipping point to a more "immediate withdrawal" frame of mind - Obama's S. 433 would be the natural proposal to build consensus around, no? And after the bill passes, both candidates are magnanimous in victory, right?

But then, of course, Bush vetoes the bill, enough Republicans remain loyal to sustain an override attempt, and we're back to square one... Wow, even the fantasyland bubble can't squash that little nugget of truth. How much more of his crap do we have to take?

I could start in with my standard leftist carping that neither of these candidates are addressing the question of Iraq in the broader context of the U.S. role in the Middle East (working on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? examining our petro-dependency? supporting repressive regimes?), but honestly, I'm excited to see two concrete plans to get us the hell out of Iraq. Again, good on 'em.

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