Will a Democratic President Really End the War?

Over the weekend, Michigan Senator Carl Levin delivered a speech to the Michigan Policy Summit in which he said that the only way to end the Iraq War is to elect a Democrat in 2008. However, neither Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama plan to end the war.

On Saturday at the 2008 Michigan Policy Summit, Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin, delivered the opening address. According to various reports of Levin’s speech, he talked about tax cuts and the Iraq War. Levin–who has often positioned himself as antiwar when the reality is more complex–said that the Iraq War has resulted in $600 billion being spent on the war rather than on social programs. Levin said that the “$10 to $12 billion a month [being spent on the Iraq War] is only going to end when one of our two Democrats gets elected.” He further told the crowd “The only practical way to end that war is to vote for a Democrat.”

However, Levin’s comments are problematic as the two Democratic Party candidates for president–Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama–are not talking seriously about ending the war. Last fall, Mediamouse.org reviewed the Iraq policies offered by the Democratic Party candidates and their voting records. At the time, Clinton and Obama, along with former Senator John Edwards, had recently stated that they would not commit to ending the Iraq War by the end of their first term (2012). Since that comment and our review, Clinton and Obama have refined their positions on Iraq, but neither of them has pledged to end the Iraq War. Instead, they offer policies and proposals that will maintain the United States occupation of Iraq via a reduced US force for an indefinite amount of time.

Hillary Clinton and the Iraq War

Hillary Clinton initially supported the Iraq War by voting to authorize the use of force against Iraq in 2002. She has since come out against the war, claiming that she was mislead due to faulty intelligence. Regardless of one thinks of position at the time (plenty of people questioned the rationale for war, she certainly could have), she has now made the Iraq War an issue in the 2008 campaign. On her website, Clinton offers a plan for to “End the War in Iraq” (reviewed below). However, her website contains no information about her voting record on Iraq. Last fall, Mediamouse.org provided an overview of Clinton’s voting record on Iraq. Since that time, there have been few votes on Iraq, however, Clinton did chose not to vote on a measure calling for the redeployment of US troops from Iraq in 90 days.

Clinton’s Iraq plan, calls for the withdrawal of US troops in Iraq to begin within 60 days of her taking office. She says that one of her first actions will be convening the Joint Chiefs of Staff, her Secretary of Defense, and her National Security Council to develop a plan to withdraw combat forces at the rate of one to two brigades per month. Clinton will keep “small, elite strike forces to engage in targeted operations against al Qaeda in Iraq,” although she never says how many troops would be in these forces. Moreover, at the end of her plan it includes language broadening the mission of her smaller force by stating “She would devote the resources we need to fight terrorism and will order specialized units to engage in narrow and targeted operations against al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in the region.” In a speech on March 18, 2008, Clinton also said that she wants to remove private security contractors from Iraq, but offered no specifics. Clinton has not said how many troops would remain in Iraq under her plan, nor has she announced a date on which all troops–combat or not–would be withdrawn.

The second component of Clinton’s plan involves “securing stability in Iraq as we bring out troops home.” Under Clinton’s plan, this means “focusing American aid efforts during our redeployment on stabilizing Iraq, not propping up the Iraqi government.” Clinton criticizes the Iraqi government for “failing to provide” basic services to its citizens and failing to address corruption in the Iraqi political establishment. To address the political problems in Iraq, Clinton would support the appointment of a high level United Nations official to broker a peace agreement between the different factions in Iraq.

Finally, Clinton says that she would launch a new diplomatic initiative “composed of key allies, other global powers, and all of the states bordering Iraq” to come up with a strategy for stabilizing Iraq. Clinton’s plan has the goal of obtaining “non-inference” agreements from countries in the region, establishing a mediation process, and obtaining funds for reconstruction. She also says that she will seek financial contributions to address the refugee problem in Iraq.

Barack Obama and the Iraq War

Barack Obama–who is speaking in Grand Rapids on Wednesday–has positioned himself as the antiwar candidate in the 2008 election. He has repeatedly cited a 2002 speech at an antiwar rally in Chicago as proof of his antiwar credentials. At the time, Obama said:

“I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.”

Many people also tend to forget that in the same speech in which he said he was opposed to the Iraq War, he accused Saddam Hussein of possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and went to great lengths to make it clear that he is not “someone who is opposed to war in all circumstances.”

On his website, Obama identifies the Iraq War as a major issue. He has a summary of his position and a link to his plan to “immediately begin withdrawing our troops from Iraq (reviewed below).”

His website presents no information about his voting record on Iraq. While it does recount various statements he has made about the war, none of the statements are tied to his voting record making it difficult to verify the veracity of his opposition. Last fall, Mediamouse.org provided an overview of Obama’s voting record on Iraq. Since that time, there have been few votes on Iraq, however, Obama did chose not to vote on a measure calling for the redeployment of US troops from Iraq in 90 days.

Obama’s website summarizes his plan for Iraq by stating:

“Obama would immediately begin to pull out troops engaged in combat operations at a pace of one or two brigades every month, to be completed by the end of next year. He would call for a new constitutional convention in Iraq, convened with the United Nations, which would not adjourn until Iraq’s leaders reach a new accord on reconciliation. He would use presidential leadership to surge our diplomacy with all of the nations of the region on behalf of a new regional security compact. And he would take immediate steps to confront the humanitarian disaster in Iraq, and to hold accountable any perpetrators of potential war crimes.”

At the core of Obama’s plan is his pledge for a “substantial, immediate redeployment of American troops.” According to his plan, the withdrawal would include only “combat troops”–a classification that is never defined–and would happen gradually throughout 2009 (one to two brigades per month). Obama is clear that “American troops may remain in Iraq or the region” and that the troops would act to “protect American diplomatic and military personnel in Iraq, and continue striking at al Qaeda in Iraq,” although he says he will not construct permanent bases. Obama’s plan says nothing about withdrawing contractors such as Blackwater from Iraq and he has refused to rule out their continued use in Iraq. Obama has also declined to say specifically how many troops would remain in Iraq under his plan, nor has he announced a timetable for the withdrawal of all troops–combat or not–from Iraq.

Obama describes withdrawal as a means “to finally apply real pressure on the Iraqi government” to make political sacrifices. Obama’s opposition to “the Surge” is also made in terms of the Iraqi government’s “failure” to act on the gains of “the Surge” by enacting specific benchmarks such as a national oil law.

Obama does describe some of the humanitarian consequences of the war, saying, “The humanitarian crisis that President Bush says would accompany American troop withdrawals is occurring right now.” He cites the 2 million internally and 2 million externally displaced Iraqis, as well as the deaths of 1,000 Iraqi civilians per month. However, while he calls for increased aid and accountability for those committing war crimes, he says nothing about the United States taking responsibility for the situation in Iraq.

Conclusions and Opportunities

While the positions of the Democratic Party presidential candidates are disappointing for those who have campaigned against the Iraq War since the start, the particulars of the election offer opportunities for the antiwar movement (http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/032608N.shtml). With the extended campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination, candidates may be pressured and held accountable in a way that was not possible in 2004. Clinton and Obama need all of the votes they can get and strategically undertaken actions might be able to change their positions on Iraq, particularly as they look for ways to assert differences between them. Moreover, there are indications that such pressure might work, with Senator Hillary Clinton pledging to support a ban on security contractors in Iraq shortly after the issue was raised in public. Similarly, with all the talk about “change” and “hope” there may be room to pressure candidates more than there was in the stifling atmosphere of “Anybody but Bush” in 2004

Of course, any such efforts aimed at pressuring the two candidates should be undertaken with a meaningful consideration of history of US foreign policy and the likelihood that when and if the antiwar movement announces its “support” for a specific candidate, the movement will likely be betrayed. As such, it is important that the antiwar movement remain independent of individual candidates and instead focus on specific issues and the work of building a grassroots movement capable of pressuring the two candidates.

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org