Clinton Would Keep Troops in Iraq if Elected

Hillary Clinton says she will keep troops in Iraq indefinitely if elected president, albeit with a much more restricted mission.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton foresees a “remaining military as well as political mission” in Iraq, and says that if elected president, she would keep a reduced but significant military force there to fight Al Qaeda, deter Iranian aggression, protect the Kurds and possibly support the Iraqi military. In a half-hour interview on Tuesday in her Senate office, Mrs. Clinton said the scaled-down American military force that she would maintain in Iraq after taking office would stay off the streets in Baghdad and would no longer try to protect Iraqis from sectarian violence — even if it descended into ethnic cleansing.

In outlining how she would handle Iraq as commander in chief, Mrs. Clinton articulated a more-nuanced position than the one she has provided at her campaign events, where she has backed the goal of “bringing the troops home.” She said in the interview that there were “remaining vital national security interests in Iraq” that would require a continuing deployment of American troops.

The United States’ security would be undermined if parts of Iraq turned into a failed state “that serves as a petri dish for insurgents and Al Qaeda,” she said. “It is right in the heart of the oil region. It is directly in opposition to our interests, to the interests of regimes, to Israel’s interests.” “So I think it will be up to me to try to figure out how to protect those national security interests and continue to take our troops out of this urban warfare, which I think is a loser,” Mrs. Clinton added. She declined to estimate the number of American troops she would keep in Iraq, saying she would draw on the advice of the military officers who would have to carry out the strategy.

The early blogospheric reaction has been mixed and along predictable lines.

  • Matt Yglesias congratulates her on having the courage to take such a detailed and controversial stand. He also thinks “most of what passes for the Democratic national security establishment agrees with Clinton.”
  • Matt Stoler gives it a “Wow.” Not an Yglesias she’s bold Wow but an I can’t believe she said something that stupid Wow. He dubs it “a genuinely and deeply conservative foreign policy strategy,” which,for those not familiar with his writing, is not intended as a compliment. He concludes by calling it “a very dangerous roadmap for the Democrats.”
  • Ron Coleman titles his post “An adult runs for President.” You can probably guess where he goes from there.
  • Similarly, Roger Simon sees the stance as “relatively sensible” in contrast with Pelosi-style hackery.

Ed Morrissey, though, is closer to my own thoughts on this.

It’s abysmal, cynical, and completely self-serving. To commit the US to inaction in the face of genocide is nothing short of breathtaking, especially with the Left agitating for action — and rightly so — in Darfur. It should also remind voters of Bill Clinton’s record in Rwanda.

This statement shows a complete lack of strategic and tactical thinking on the part of someone who want to assume the role of Commander in Chief. The key to stabilizing Iraq and beating the terrorists who have nested in Anbar is restoring order to its capital. If the central government falls, the other goals she mentions — deterring Iran, protecting the Kurds, and so on — will go right out the window. If Baghdad falls into utter chaos and ethnic cleansing, the rest of the nation will follow suit in short order, and Anbar will be the least of our problems.

That really would put the US contingent in Iraq in an untenable position. If Baghdad collapses, the Shi’ite south will likely fall into the hands of the radicals — cutting off our lines of communication. We won’t be able to resupply through the Gulf any longer, and Turkey made it clear in 2003 that they had no interest in assisting our logistics. Saudi Arabia has no desire to see us return to their territory, and Syria is obviously not going to cooperate, either.

Quite. Further, Clinton would effectively have us running around in a war zone pretending to be a neutral bystanders, which is simply bizarre. “Don’t mind us–we’re just going after terrorists and acting as a buffer against Iran! Go ahead and burn that village! Wait–you’re not a terrorist are you?”

This makes John Murtha’s “We’ll go hide in Okinawa and monitor things from there” plan look positively brilliant by comparison.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    It’s unclear from his post whether Matt Stoller thinks we have no national interests in Iraq or whether he’d just like to see the interests spelled out. I find the former dismaying and the latter somewhat facetious.

    Of course, it’s reasonable to ask whether the national interests being secured by our military presence in Iraq (I think that “occupation” is a bit misleading at this point and, technically, incorrect) are worth the costs. But I also think it’s reasonable to ask right back for an enumeration of hypothetical national interests that would be worth the costs we’re currently paying in Iraq.

  2. Christopher says:

    Clinton is a typical democrat-wants it both ways.

  3. Tano says:

    “If Baghdad collapses, the Shi’ite south will likely fall into the hands of the radicals — ”

    Just who does Morrissey think controls the south today?

  4. Christopher,

    I think you are bang on. Combine Hillary’s desire for an imperial presidency if she is warming the chair with her often tin political ear and you get this statement.