This NY Times article describes how the Democratic Presidential candidates are starting to offer a few more ideas about how they might manage an Iraqi pullout, if elected.
I guess they’ve given up on their earlier strategy of pressuring Bush. Now they seem to be accepting that the consequences of actually attaining power in 2008 might be the need to fulfill their own campaign promises rather than to get Bush to do it for them.
Which means that the Democrats now fear the “helicopters on the roof” scenario that I wrote about here. The President presiding over that debacle was Ford, but the drawdown of troops that preceded it—known as “Vietnamization,” was Nixon’s fulfillment of his own 1968 campaign promises (see this) to reduce the number of US forces while making the South Vietnamese take more responsibility for the fight.
Nixon’s policy was a slow one; the elimination of active US fighting forces in Vietnam took many years:
We supported the South Vietnamese military with money and equipment for several more years. The end, when it came—forced by the Democratic Congress of the time, with the weakened and unelected President Ford in charge instead of the disgraced Nixon—featured those famous helicopter emblems of retreat, shame, and abandonment.
What do the Democrats plan now that they realize they might need to preside over something similar? Their basic message is still “withdraw,” but the details given by most of the frontrunners are vague, with suggestions that the process would involve some time rather occurring very quickly, and would need to feature protection from the possibility of an Iraqi bloodbath or genocide.
It’s a good sign that the Democratic candidates are beginning to take tentative steps towards the reality of Iraq and what a precipitous withdrawal would probably mean. But nothing indicates they know how to go about preventing one, or protecting the troops and the Iraqi people from the consequences of such a pullout. As the Times says:
…[the Democratic Presidential candidates] all discuss a mix of vigorous diplomacy in the region, intensified pressure on the Iraqi government and a phased withdrawal of troops to begin as soon as possible. But their statements in campaign settings are often silent on the problems of how to disengage and what tradeoffs might be necessary.
Perhaps that’s because previously they really believed they had the power to make the current administration handle it, and so they didn’t think they had to come up with much in the way of a program.
Candidate Bill Richardson (who is unlikely to actually win the nomination) seems to be the most minimalist of all. His proposal is a model of simplicity: I have a one-point plan to get out of Iraq: Get out! Get out!
Doesn’t inspire much faith, does he—except perhaps in moveon.org members.
It’s a strange irony that Democrats may find themselves in the position of the hated and reviled Nixon, attempting to finish a war they feel they bear no responsibility for having started (despite their vote in support of it; that’s why the “Bush lied” meme is so important for them), and inheriting all its conundrums, risks, and dilemmas.