The Politics of Withdrawal

Much is being made of the notion that the Democrats are going to do all in their power to force a withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. While I continue to doubt the capacity of the Congress to force (sans extraordinary, if not unprecedented, action) such a move, there is another power that may lead to a substantial draw down: politics.

There can be no doubt that both parties are painfully aware that 2008 is on the horizon and it doesn’t take a genius to know that Iraq is going to be central to that election. An excellent point was made on This Week yesterday (I think by Cokie Roberts, but since This Week is too cheap, unlike MTP, to provide free transcripts, I can’t check) wherein it was noted that the Democrats don’t want to win in 2008 to inherit Iraq in January 2009 and nor do the Republicans want to have to run by defending Iraq in 2008. As such, there are incentives for both parties to wish to get out of Iraq.

I would argue that the notion that there is this dichotomy of the Republicans/staying to finish the job v. Democrats/leave as soon as possible is a radical oversimplification of the situation. For one thing, the Reps, as a party, may be far less interested in staying as many think that they are. For another, the Democrats are quite aware of what it will look like for 2008 if they come in and look like cowards who “cut and run” and so forth.

Now, do I think that we will be out by before the ’08 elections? This strikes me as unlikely, but I do except some serious policy shifts. The President is also in a position to be able to present a public face of being the guy who wants to finish the job, but who can then use the Democrat’s pressure as cover for changing policy. Something along those lines seems likely, as Bush doesn’t like to admit mistakes, but he can now couch serious policy changes in the context of “understanding the message the American people sent in the elections” as well as in the context of pressure from the newly minted 110th Congress and its new Democratic masters.

[cross-posted at PoliBlog]

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Iraq War, US Politics, , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. There is also the window for trying to be out of Iraq by 2008 and yet no negative consequences of being out have hit. To illustrate consider the following potential scenarios.

    1) US out by mid-2007. Iraq government falls to radical Islamic movement in the middle of 2008. Democrats blame republicans for getting the US into a war (conveniently trying to forget their votes on the AUMF) and republicans try to blame democratic “cut and run”.

    2) US pulls out in mid-2008 and old media reports everything is hunky dory. Democrats claim their “change of direction” is the reason, republicans claim it was the plan all along. Radical Islamic movement takes over the government in 2009.

    Both scenarios have the same Iraq internal action/reaction to US pull out, but the impact on US politics would be quite different.

  2. legion says:

    Another problem is the unforgivable oversimplification of the problem by pretty much everyone reporting on it, on both sides. Maybe, back in the early days of the occupation, back during Paul Bremer’s “enlightened” governance, the military could have established some level of order & set the country on the path to peaceful self-governance. But not anymore. Now, trying to establish peace in Iraq via military force alone is like trying to paint a house with a hammer. Until the people in DC grasp that (again, regardless of party), things will _never_ improve. And until the general public starts to get the idea, they’ll never stop pressuring our gov’t for a “quick-fix” sound bit solution that will also never work.

  3. Anderson says:

    Hmm, parallel post to JJ’s; I’ll repeat myself.

    I think the Dems are making a mistake, a huge one, by already talking in these terms. What they should be doing is saying, “all right, we’ve had your so-called plans … now, what is the REAL PLAN for Iraq?” and put the ball back in the White House’s court, with the new incentive that it’s hard to ignore a Democratic Congress.

    Then, if Bush waffles, the Dems can point that out and say “look, he has no plan, we have no choice but to get out rather than keep our troops dying for no plan.”

    Or if there *is* a plan, then its merits can be debated & the Dems can read the polls.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    I respectfully disagree with the analysis here. I’m seeing a number of different tacks in discussing the subject:

    – the Democrats will “see reason”
    – we just can’t (a variant on the above)
    – it’s politically imprudent to leave
    – it’s unwise to leave (my own take)

    Why will Democrats see reason? This would seem to assume that those who’ve been calling for withdrawal (regardless of their diction) aren’t sincere. I take them at their words—they’re sincere.

    And of course we can leave. We can do any damned fool thing we want to.

    What’s missing from the discussion is that withdrawal sooner rather than later is already being treated by both Republicans and Democrats as though it were a foregone conclusion. Not all Republicans and not all Democrats but some of the former and most of the latter. The American people overwhelmingly think there’s no purpose being accomplished in our remaining and that’s an inescapable signal that we’ll be doing so.

    A large proportion of those who initially favored the invasion are already treating it as a foregone conclusion.

    Democrats will pay no penalty (in the near- to mid-term) for withdrawal. A segment (the activist segment) of their base favors it. The American people, generally, favor it. Any consequences for withdrawal can be blamed on Bush or chalked up to inevitability.

    There will ultimately be a cost to the credibility of any initiative we undertake nearly anywhere in the future and that’s a main reason I’m arguing it’s unwise to leave. But I’m feeling mighty lonely in that position.

  5. Anderson,

    Gee, I thought the “As the Iraqis stand up, we stand down” was the real plan. The only question was were we willing to stay in it long enough to let the Iraqis stand up.

  6. Anderson says:

    YAJ, *when* will the Iraqis “stand up”? 20 years from now? Is that a reasonable period for the occupation to continue?

    What steps is the Iraqi gov’t taking towards that goal? The news at lunch reported that tribal leaders are furious at the gov’t for doing zilch to protect the Baghdad-Najaf road, and are threatening to take security into their own hands. “Standing up” indeed.

    What we’re doing, right now, isn’t working. I trust that you’ve noticed that. What’s the new plan?

  7. legion says:

    To dogpile on Anderson’s point, what is the plan to _get_ the Iraqis stood up so we _can_ leave? Whose responsibility is that plan – ours, theirs, or both? So much of Bush’s failed administration is reflected in his leadership style – make grand pronouncements, leave the implementation details in the hands of others, and never exercise oversight or demand results. Spin thoroughly until the public forgets, and then repeat.

    Mars, anyone? How about FEMA, then?

  8. ken says:

    We just had an election on this topic.

    The American people spoke loud and clear: We will not support a war based upon lies. We know this war is lost. It is not our loss. It is Bush and the conservative warmongers who will shoulder the blame for the war, and for losing it.

    We want out of Iraq now. Iraq is no more a threat to the US, now or in the future, than was VietNam when we finally gave up on that misbegotten adventure.

    The sooner we get out the better. By the time the next election rolls around no one will even care anymore. We have more important issues to deal with right here at home.

  9. Bithead says:

    I would argue that the notion that there is this dichotomy of the Republicans/staying to finish the job v. Democrats/leave as soon as possible is a radical oversimplification of the situation. For one thing, the Reps, as a party, may be far less interested in staying as many think that they are. For another, the Democrats are quite aware of what it will look like for 2008 if they come in and look like cowards who “cut and run” and so forth.

    Exactly so.
    They also know if our withdrawal spikes the violence, up to and including attacks against American targets, as I fully expect it would, what they will look like… The question will be asked…. and rightly…. how many people died so the Democrats could score political points….

  10. Anderson says:

    The question will be asked…. and rightly…. how many people died so the Democrats could score political points….

    Wait a minute, you’re asking this about the Democrats? In the future tense?

    As opposed to the Repubs, over the last 3 years?

    How does your head not explode?

  11. anjin-san says:

    If anyone out there can see a road that leads to a good conclusion of the Iraq war, I for one would love to hear it. I just don’t see it from where I sit. Failure to go in with sufficient force to secure the country has left us with a no-win scenario.

    If Bit has a plan beyond “Blame the Democrats for everything, even though they are not in power yet” I am all ears.

  12. Bithead says:

    Wait a minute, you’re asking this about the Democrats?

    Damn right, I am. Think:

    Q1: Do you think losing in Iraq is not going to embolden the Jihadists?

    Q2: Are you aware of any war in history, that was won by withdrawing?

  13. ken says:

    Bithead, what are you so afraid of? Do you really believe that propaganda conservatives have been spewing about the so called ‘war-on-terror’ and the ‘islamofascist jihad’?

    That was nothing more than fear-mongering coupled with jingoism to win your vote, dude.

    Whatever monsters live under your bed we are not afraid of them.

    Relax. We will get out of Iraq. We will keep you safe. Our ‘enemies’ will be defeated using good old fashioned American diplomacy, law enforcement, police investigations, border protection and international cooperation.

  14. anjin-san says:

    Still nothing from bit more then “stay and bleed, year after year”.
    Not exactly a plan for victory.

    Then there is the very strong possibility that Bush has already lost the war to consider…

  15. anjin-san says:

    I also wonder what people mean when they talk about “emboldening” the terrorists.

    I mean, they destroyed the WTC, they attacked the Pentagon, and we are pretty sure they were going after the White House. How much friggin’ bolder can you get?

  16. Bithead says:

    Bithead, what are you so afraid of? Do you really believe that propaganda conservatives have been spewing about the so called ‘war-on-terror’ and the ‘islamofascist jihad’?

    So, am I to assume you don’t consider the Jihadists a threat?

    I don’t think I’ll comment on this one, other than to point it up.

    I mean, they destroyed the WTC, they attacked the Pentagon, and we are pretty sure they were going after the White House. How much friggin’ bolder can you get?

    I’d say a nuke or two would qualify, though I suppose I’ll get lip on that one, too.

  17. Bithead says:

    We will keep you safe. Our ‘enemies’ will be defeated using good old fashioned American diplomacy, law enforcement, police investigations, border protection and international cooperation.

    Of course… it worked so well, before.

  18. anjin-san says:

    Bit,

    Do you really think that our killing pawns in Iraq will somehow keep Al Queda leadership from using a nuke on us should they obtain one?

    I mean, do you really think that?

  19. Bithead says:

    Do you really think that our killing pawns in Iraq will somehow keep Al Queda leadership from using a nuke on us should they obtain one?

    I think that our actions in Iraq, and Afghanistan, while clearly beyond your logic, are directly responsible for keeping Al Queda in check. Can you, for example imagine containing Al Queda with Saddam still in power?

  20. Anderson says:

    Can you, for example imagine containing Al Queda with Saddam still in power?

    Of course I can, Bithead, because I don’t live in a fantasy world where Saddam had anything to do with sponsoring or supporting al-Qaeda.

    I mean, that sentence would have to go in the Bithead top 10, if anyone were cruel enough to compile one.

  21. John Konop says:

    A Conservative Plan for Iraq

    Anyone who questions the lack of a realistic and comprehensive Iraq strategy is labeled a friend of fascism by the Republican leadership. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) recently said, “I wonder if [Democrats] are more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people.” Republicans are paralyzed with the fear of being thought ineffective on national security and the war.

    Meanwhile, the Democratic leadership cannot seem to accept that—regardless of how we got there—we are in Iraq. They have not made a convincing case that an arbitrary phased or date-certain troop withdrawal is in the best long-term interest of the United States. Rather, they seem to think that withdrawal will undo the decision to have gone to war. Rubbing President Bush’s nose in Iraq’s difficulties is also a priority.

    This political food fight is stifling the desperately needed public discussion about a meaningful resolution to the fire fight. Most Americans know Iraq is going badly. And they know the best path lies somewhere between “stay the course” and “get out now”.

    Some Truths

    1) Iraq is having a civil war between the Sunnis and Shiites. The Kurds will certainly join, if attacked. It may not look like a civil war, because they don’t have tanks, helicopters, and infantry; but they are fighting with what they have.

    2) Vast oil revenues are a significant factor behind the fighting. Yes, there are religious and cultural differences—but concerns about how the oil revenue will be split among the three groups make the problem worse.

    3) Most Iraqis support partitioning Iraq into Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish regions. (Their current arrangement resulted from a pen stroke during the British occupation, not some organic alignment.)

    4) Most citizens of the Middle East who support groups that kill and terrorize civilians—such as Hezbollah, Hamas, or al Qaeda—in part because of their aggressive stance against Israel and the United States, but also because they provide much needed social services, such as building schools.

    5) Both Republican and Democratic administrations have spent decades doing business with the tyrants who run the Middle East in exchange for oil and cheap labor. This has been the one of the rallying calls of Bin Laden and Hezbollah—that we support tyrants who abuse people for profits. In fact, our latest trade deals with Oman and Jordan actually promote child and slave labor; it’s so bad the State Department had to issue warnings about rampant child trafficking in those countries.

    6) Iran is using the instability in Iraq to enhance its political stature in the region. Leaving Iraq without a government that can stand up to Iran would be very destabilizing to the region and the world.

    From the U.S. perspective, this is all mostly about energy. As things stand, a serious oil supply disruption would devastate our economy, threaten our security, and jeopardize our ability to provide for our children.

    New Directions

    Success in Iraq and the Middle East in general requires us to work in three areas simultaneously: (1) fostering a more stable Middle East region, including Iraq, (2) pursuing alternative sources of oil, and (3) developing alternatives to oil. To these ends we must:

    1) Insure that the oil revenues are fairly and transparently split among all three groups: Shiite, Sunni, and Kurds based on population.

    2) Allow each group to have a much stronger role in self government by creating three virtually-autonomous regions. Forcing a united Iraq down their throats is not working. Our military would then be there in support a solution that people want, rather than one they are resisting.

    3) Become a genuine force for positive change, thus denying extremist groups much of their leverage. Driving a fair two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian problem should be our first priority. We should also engage in projects that both help the average Middle Easterner and Americans, such as supporting schools that are an alternative to the ones that teach hate and recruit terrorists. We should also stop participating in trade deals that promote child and slave labor by insisting on deals that include livable wages and basic labor rights.

    4) Declare a Marshal Plan to end our Middle Eastern energy dependency with a compromise between exploring for new sources, reducing consumption, and developing of alternative energies. For example, we should re-establish normal relations with Cuba so we can beat China to Cuba’s off-shore oil. We should also redirect existing tax breaks for Big Oil into loan guarantees for alternative energy companies.

    Once we no longer need so much oil from the Middle East, we can begin winning over its people by using our oil purchases to reward positive and peaceful behavior from their leaders. This would ultimately reduce tensions and encourage prosperity in the region.

    We will have to live with the threat of Islamic radical terrorism forever; but these solutions are a start to reducing the threat. Both parties have to put politics aside and put together an honest and reasonable plan that the American understand.

  22. Steven Plunk says:

    Mr. Konop,

    I appreciate your well reasoned post. It is pleasure to see people take the time to convey ideas in the proper way rather than just throw insults and snide remarks.

    Items 3 & 4 of your list of steps to take concern me.

    First, can we expect our efforts for a two state solution to work with the Palestinians as dysfunctional as they are?

    Second, can we expect energy independence in a political climate that forbids offshore drilling and locks up ANWR from the minimal impacts of drilling and production? It seems one of the first steps to energy independence is higher domestic production.

    Alternative energy sources sound good but are proven to be too expensive and in many cases energy inefficient. Hard choices need to be made but can we make them?

  23. Anderson says:

    Mr. Konop’s (1) and (2) don’t seem compatible. The Sunnis aren’t sitting on any oil — isn’t that the problem?

    So if we split Iraq, how do we “ensure” that the Sunnis get oil revenues? The Kurds & the Shiites say “hell no, they oppressed us for years, let ’em eat cake.” What exactly are we supposed to do about that?

    Now that I think about it, an impoverished Sunni rump state, with the bells & whistles of sovereignty, would be a natural Qaeda hangout. Another argument against partition, though like Mr. Konop, I doubt we have much choice any more.

  24. Bithead says:

    Of course I can, Bithead, because I don’t live in a fantasy world where Saddam had anything to do with sponsoring or supporting al-Qaeda.

    I said nothing about him sponsoring AQ, Anderson, though the proof is in that he at least had contact with them. (I’ve posted links to that effect previously. Did you miss them?)

    But even, in spite of the evdience to the contrary, we assume as you do that Saddam had nothing at all to do with AQ, do you really consider that AQ wasn’t using Iraq covertly, or that they would not be doing so had we restricted our activity to Afghanistan?

    Remember, please that AQ considers itself to be above mere national boundries. A Saddam ruled Iraq would at least be viewed as a resource to use.

  25. Anderson says:

    Anybody speak Bithead? I need a translator.

  26. Bithead says:

    If anyone out there can see a road that leads to a good conclusion of the Iraq war, I for one would love to hear it. I just don’t see it from where I sit. Failure to go in with sufficient force to secure the country has left us with a no-win scenario.

    But who was it responsible for that condition?
    Do the words ‘peace dividend’ mean anything to you? We tore down the best military in the world to pay for social programs. THen, the same people complaining about not enough being spent on social programs, then complain we had to go after Iraq on the cheap.

    And what would you commentary have been had we actually spent more on it, and sent more troops? Can you tell us with a straight face you’d not have been complaining?

    Mr. Konop’s (1) and (2) don’t seem compatible. The Sunnis aren’t sitting on any oil — isn’t that the problem?

    The federal system on that resource seems a reasonable answer.

    Anybody speak Bithead? I need a translator.

    What’s arong, Anderson? Doesn’t match your worldview?

  27. anjin-san says:

    Bithead,

    Seriously dude, you can’t be that simple. The US military crushed Saddam’s military. Everything that can be done in Iraq with military force has been done. Our forces were more then up to the task.

    The problem is cultural and political, not military.

    And hell yes, more force was necessary. It was stupid to go in at all, but if you are going to go, go all out.

  28. Bithead says:

    if there are two points of view, one represented by bombs and bullets, and the other one represented by mere politics, the bombs are going to win.

    And if your position is to be that more force was necessary, then consider the position that spending the “peace dividend” thereby dismantling a goodly chunk of the greatest military on earth has put us into. When the Soviet union fell over years ago the left in this country decided that that money that was used to support the military could suddenly be used to support socialist programs.

    Rephrased slightly; if you’re going to complain that we went into Iraq on the cheap, you might as well admit to why.

  29. Without picking up anyone else’s arguments here, I will say the “peace dividend” had absolutely nothing to do with the situation in Iraq at the moment.