Thursday, March 15, 2007

Clinton Says She Would Keep Some Troops In Iraq

There seem to be no good immediate options for the U.S. in Iraq.

The New York Times notes this morning that, despite some fall off in the number of bodies found each morning in Baghdad, the Bush Administration is already saying the political goals of its "surge" in U.S. forces will take longer to achieve than it had first estimated.

The Democrats in Congress are pushing withdrawal proposals which they can probably not pass with a sufficient majority to override a Bush veto. And they may not even get a Senate majority, since all have aroused some objections, even among thinking Democrats. There is a good column by David Brooks in the NYT today belittling the ridiculous views of Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) that we can somehow make the Iraqi politicians in the Green Zone more enlightened by passing Congressional resolutions.

(The vote in the Senate on the latest Democratic resolution was 50 to 48 against, with three Democratic senators -- Pryor of Arkansas, Nelson of Nebraska and Lieberman of Connecticut -- voting against. The only Republican to vote for was Smith of Oregon).

Meanwhile, today, the New York Times has a front-page account of an interview with Sen. Hilary Clinton in which she says that, as President, she would keep some U.S. troops in Iraq but withdraw them to the peripheries, and definitely outside Baghdad, while, essentially, she would be prepared to let the Iraqis fight it out on the sectarian front.

(This Clinton interview was a real scoop, in that she was frank and said something unexpected, and when it is put together with the trenchant NYT coverage on the removal of eight U.S. attorneys by Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales and all the fallout from that, maybe it is only my imagination, but it seems to me that Dean Baquet may already be having a positive effect in the New York Times Washington bureau).

But back to the Clinton interview. This is not a good option either, since it is very hard to see U.S. troops standing idly by in defensive positions, while hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are massacred in a sectarian civil war. We didn't do that in Bosnia, after the Srebenica massacre, and what makes us think we could do it again?

Beyond that, Clinton may be working herself away from any chance of actually becoming the Democratic presidential nominee. By merely suggesting there is some rationale in our continued presence in Iraq, she is flying in the face of the developing opinion among Democratic voters that we have no place in Iraq, or perhaps the Middle East as a whole, at all.

On the other hand, even Sen. Barack Obama seems to have doubts we can withdraw altogether. Anyone who really thinks about this realizes that the danger to the U.S. in a broad Middle East withdrawal are very considerable. It's not surprising that at least some Democratic officeholders are resisting lay liberals in the electorate.

I've suggested before that American opinion could veer once again toward participation in the war if there were a major terrorist attack, either in Europe or the U.S. But since Osama bin Laden takes the long view, and is no dope, maybe there is actually not a great chance of this in the near future.

In the meantime, there's no doubting that the fortunes of the Bush Administration continue to be on the wane. The revelations about poor treatment of wounded veterans in the military hospitals, the developing scandal in the removal of the eight U.S. attorneys, not to mention the continued rise in U.S. casualties and other frustrations in Iraq, added to the passage of time, reducing Mr. Bush's time in office, all are working against the Administration.

In these circumstances, crazy, unworkable alternatives will continue to surface as proposals. Let's hope we don't precipitately move into an even greater disaster by adopting any of them.

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