Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 21, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

"NEARLY ALL"....Apparently Bill Richardson is on the warpath about an alleged Hillary Clinton flip-flop on Iraq. Really? I hadn't heard that. So what's her current position?

On Wednesday, Clinton told a voter that nearly all forces could be withdrawn within a year if she were elected president. But Richardson pointed out that during a debate in September, she, Obama and Edwards said they couldn't commit to withdrawing all the troops by 2013 — the end of the next president's first term.

...."Governor Richardson knows that Senator Clinton has been clear and consistent: If George Bush has not ended the war in Iraq, she will," [Clinton spokesman Howard] Wolfson said. "As she has said, she would accomplish that by beginning to withdraw our troops within 60 days after inauguration at the rate of one or two brigades a month. This would mean that nearly all troops could be home within a year."

Wolfson is right: Hillary has said this before. So I guess what we're really arguing about is the meaning of "nearly all." Gotcha. So let's parse this. The next president will probably take office with 15 combat brigades still active in Iraq, which means that ten months of withdrawals starting in April 2009 would get us down to five brigades by January 2010. If the drawdown were a bit faster than one brigade per month, you might get down to one or two brigades, which is Hillary's well-known "residual force."

The problem is that this still doesn't tell us everything. You can figure a combat brigade at about 3,500 troops, so 2-5 brigades means somewhere between 7,000 and 17,000 combat troops. But that still leaves you with tens of thousands of additional troops that are outside the brigade structure. Are they coming home too? Or does this leave some wiggle room to keep upwards of 50,000 troops in Iraq?

Who knows? Bottom line: it's a word game right now. Richardson has said he'd withdraw all troops, which is clear enough, but both Clinton and Obama have been vague about their plans. And they still are. In today's Rorschach primary, "nearly all" means whatever you want it to mean.

Kevin Drum 1:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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Withdraw them all. That war is not, and did not ever, serve any national interest that was worth spending even one soldier's life on.

Posted by: CN on December 21, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, come on now, Hillary would NEVER flip-flop!!

Posted by: Catlover on December 21, 2007 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

"In today's Rorschach primary, "nearly all" means whatever you want it to mean."

Not quite. It clearly does not mean less than half. Beyond that it does get fuzzier. My rough estimate would lead to an expectation of between somewhere around 75% to 99%.

"Richardson has said he'd withdraw all troops, which is clear enough, but both Clinton and Obama have been vague about their plans. And they still are."

Given that we do not know what the situation on the ground will be more than year from now let alone 5 years from now the future is necessarily vague. It may be that a couple years from now that it is clearly in the both the US and Iraqs interest that the US keep several thousand troops in Iraq. Apparently Richardson claims to have ruled out that as even possible. I think the current course is bad, but I dont pretend to be able to see the future even if it is politically convenient to do so.

Posted by: Catch22 on December 21, 2007 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

In unrelated news, the Lakota nation has withdrawn from its treaties with the US and declared itself an independent country:

"We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us," long-time Indian rights activist Russell Means told a handful of reporters and a delegation from the Bolivian embassy, gathered in a church in a run-down neighborhood of Washington for a news conference.

A delegation of Lakota leaders delivered a message to the State Department on Monday, announcing they were unilaterally withdrawing from treaties they signed with the federal government of the United States, some of them more than 150 years old.

They also visited the Bolivian, Chilean, South African and Venezuelan embassies, and will continue on their diplomatic mission and take it overseas in the coming weeks and months, they told the news conference.

Lakota country includes parts of the states of Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.

The new country would issue its own passports and driving licences, and living there would be tax-free -- provided residents renounce their US citizenship, Means said.

Why isn't this bigger news?

Posted by: Disputo on December 21, 2007 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Just keep shilling for Clinton, Kevin.

And never bother disclosing that your paychecks come from one of the largest Clinton fundraisers in the country.

I actually had respect for you before the last few months.

Posted by: Petey on December 21, 2007 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Btw, I apologize for posting a story about indigenous USAmericans in a thread where Kev unfortunately describes a descendent of indigenous Mexicans as being "on the warpath". I hadn't read that at first.

Posted by: Disputo on December 21, 2007 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Disputo -- because they don't have an army or a functioning economy.

Posted by: sean on December 21, 2007 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Sean, not quite.

Disputo,'cause Russell Means and his delegation have zero authority, which is vested in the various tribal councils of the Lakotas.

Posted by: majarosh on December 21, 2007 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

You gotta read the fine print. Way down there at the bottom it says: "Depending on the situation and what my military commanders recommend". All bets are off if the situation changes (which it always does).

It's like the grand congressional proscription against permanent bases in Iraq, when of course nothing in life is permanent. duh. Even a permanent isn't permanent.

Posted by: Don Bacon on December 21, 2007 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Disputo -- Free Leonard Peltier!

Majorosh -- in many Indian nations, tribal councils are flunkey bodies foisted on them by Washington, im part to have somebody "official" to ratify one-sided treaties.

What you meant to say is: "Tribal-councils have no Native-inherent authority, just D.C.-induced authority.

You might want to read more about Indian treaty, governancne and sovreignty issues.

On Iraq, let's not forget Edwards has also NOT called for a full withdrawal.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on December 21, 2007 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Assume that we get down to a "residual force" of 7K to 17K troops. Can someone explain what their function is supposed to be?

Are they supposed to be sitting ducks?
Are they part of our effort to help al Qaeda recruiting campaigns?

When 150K troops cannot keep the peace, I can't imagine what useful purpose a much smaller force is supposed to provide.

Posted by: JJF on December 21, 2007 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Well, they're poorer than the Navajo (see e.g. http://adr.iadrjournals.org/cgi/reprint/11/2/210.pdf). Did I miss their army?

Seriously, when people do dumb stuff like this, it's best just to ignore them until they come to their senses.

Posted by: sean on December 21, 2007 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

As Kevin shows, "nearly all" is an absolutely meaningless phrase. I think it's safe to assume (and would be insane not to) that any candidate who won't say that he or she would end the occupation, won't.

Posted by: Alan in SF on December 21, 2007 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

It simply means that Sen. Clinton, just as any intelligent person would, is not going to burn her bridges (completely, anyway), before she has crossed them.
It appears to me that all Senator Clinton is doing is not ruling out the possiblity that between now and 2009 the Iraqi government might just possibly finally get its act together and actually merit the assistance of 10-2000 U.S. combat troops, either as fellow fighters or, more likely since they would be combat troops, in a direct training role operating side-by-side with the Iraqis.
Do I believe that the Iraqi government will finally start acting like a national government? No. Does Senator Clinton? I really don't think so, but why doesn't someone ask her?

Posted by: Doug on December 21, 2007 at 6:25 PM | PERMALINK

What Doug & Catch 22 said. And a further development:


Go on over to the Associated Press homepage to read the whole thing. Short form: SecDef Gates announced we might be able to reduce troops strength in Iraq from the current 165,000 to about 100,000 by January 2009. If that happens - big if - there would be little reason to suppose that the incoming President would not be able to further drawdown our soldiers there.

Now I don't know about anyone else, but I want a candidate who is smart enough to be vague about what s/he will do 13 months ahead about a situation none of us can now predict with any certainty.

A little more food for thought. Iraqi Kurdistan has no coalition combat troops there; the Kurds have their own police & army maintaining security. They are negotiating to develop their oil fields, a refinery, & electric power plants. Their capital has regularly scheduled commercial air service & is experiencing a major building boom - we're talking hotels, apartment buildings, malls, & office towers. Google Michael J. Totten's blog & go to March & April, 2007 for dispatches & photos. I think you will be as amazed as I was when I saw the pictures. And they want a continued US presence. Question: Why in hell isn't the MSM reporting this?

Posted by: bob in fla on December 22, 2007 at 1:55 AM | PERMALINK

Clintonian parsing on what "troops" mean?

Those at the permanent bases?
The 4K at the embassy?
The Air Force flying above Iraq?
The Navy in Iraqi waters?

let her explain.as i've said many times--we're not leaving till the oil is gone

Posted by: Dr WU-the last of the big time thinkers on December 22, 2007 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK



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