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Talk Amongst Yourselves

I went up to the convention hoping to figure out (both from listening to the speeches but also from talking to people around town) what kind of policies a Kerry administration would follow. On health care and education his position papers have always been quite clear and consistent with his campaign rhetoric and general Democratic Party ideology, so there's no great mystery. I've reported my thoughts on a Kerry trade policy, and his record as a deficit hawk is so consistent that I think we can see clearly where he's going with that. On foreign policy in general there are various things I could say, but Iraq, near as I can tell, remains something of a giant blank spot. Bush's Iraq policy, too, has become awfully murky and I can't tell at all what's lurking beneath the rhetoric there. So what do people think either man will do 2005-08 with our "fifty first state?"

August 5, 2004 | Permalink


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pull out.

Posted by: praktike | Aug 5, 2004 12:13:02 PM

I think we're gone no matter who wins. The difference is that Bush will try to hold on to as much of the money involved as possible.

Posted by: Tim H. | Aug 5, 2004 12:26:20 PM

pull out doesn't sound manly to me bob

Posted by: Texan | Aug 5, 2004 12:26:41 PM

But how committed do you really want them to be to spelling out a particular plan for what they do in Iraq? It seems to me that the Bush administration's signature problem--not just in Iraq but in all sorts of policy areas--is latching onto a particular policy and sticking with it with no adjustment despite evidence its not working until some major fiasco forces change. It seems to me that rather than a specific agenda, we want to know that the candidate has an ultimate goal in Iraq that we're comfortable with (be it democratic iraq, u.s. out, a combination, or something else); that he and his adminsitration will have the agility to adjust to what comes up as they undertake that goal, the intelligence and knowledge to craft reasonable responses, and the competence and diplomacy to successfully carry them out. We also need to know what sense of ethics and values are constraining the actions the candidate's adminsitration would consider taking in response to events that unfold and whether we accept them. And, the candidate should probably tell us at least some initial steps he's willing to take. Seems to me like Kerry has done all these things. Whereas Bush continues to repeat dogma with no really successful action or response.

Posted by: flip | Aug 5, 2004 12:27:14 PM

pulling out is manly if you do it right.

Posted by: praktike | Aug 5, 2004 12:27:26 PM

I think rather highly of Kerry. Perhaps I should not, but I really believe the best course to take in Iraq in February of next year is not all clear right now. I have confidence that Kerry will listen to good advice from all sides and make a decision mostly based on that advice [No doubt that certain things wil be off the table for political reasons].
Kerry seems to lean toward staying in Iraq to a point where we can leave reasonably claiming that we left Iraq in a position where there was no reasonable chance that it would devolve into something worse than when we got there, something we cannot say now [Hell of a way to spend a couple hundred billion, and a thousand troops lives].
I think Kerry will focus on stability, and then bringing the international community back into the fold. I imagine he will listen to Biden and re-double our efforts on training, and providing opportunities for the international community to help with training.
The regional fault lines in Iraq are a huge problem, and I am not sure there is a policy that can solve those problems. Making good decisions in reaction to events on the ground is the best policy going forward, and in that regard, Kerry could not be worse than Bush.

Posted by: theCoach | Aug 5, 2004 12:39:14 PM

I think that the Kerry people believe, probably rightly, that they don't have to offer a definite alternative. They just have to keep on more-or-less subtly reminding people that Bush didn't do very well in Iraq. The "flip-flop" meme is the Bush counterattack -- basically trying to say "He did it too, but now he's trying to only blame me, Mommy!" I think the advantage is Kerry's, and I hope that the Kerry people have a few things in their bag of tricks to keep the issue hot during the next 3 months.

That way Kerry has the full range of options without accusations of lying, etc. I expect him to be hawkish enough to warm the cockles of Matt's heart, within the limits of the fact that he'll primarily have to be cleaning up Bush's mess. I think that his stated strong support for Israel is an indicator.

As a semi-dove I'm supporting Kerry knowing (thinking) all this -- since Kerry will certainly be less adventurist and sloppy than Dubya. I think that the true doves will be very disappointed in Kerry, though, and may never trust the Democrats again.

Military issues have killed the Democrats repeatedly all the way back to 1952 (Korea). This is usually interpreted to mean that Dems are not hawkish enough, but it's more complicated than that -- look at LBJ. (And it's not as if Nixon actually WON the Vietnam war, though from the babble you keep hearing, you'd think so). I think that people in the military and intelligence services have sabotaged the Democrats with private foreign policy negotiations at least twice (1980 October Surprise, 1968 I can't remember the details).

As Matt has noted, the fiction that all of our wars are defensive has grossly distorted all public debate on military policy. And the pervasive use of the "isolationist" label (like the "pacifist", "protectionist", and "Luddite" labels), has the effect of automatically discrediting anyone who wants to set the relevant knobs lower than eleven out of ten.

Posted by: Zizka | Aug 5, 2004 12:42:49 PM

matt- why can't you blog in film noir style like Harold Meyerson?

Posted by: praktike | Aug 5, 2004 12:47:02 PM

Right, right, but this isn't a question about politics -- "should X or Y be more specific?" There's also a real world out there -- what do you think will happen?

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Aug 5, 2004 12:54:15 PM

Waaall. Zizka closer than praktike, I think.

1st, since Sadr is restarting his insurgency; Sistani may be dying; kidnappings have become an epidemic causing NGO's and contractors to run away; the basic mechanisms, no wait, the organization to decide on the basic mechanisms for the election can't get off the ground....anybody who thinks they know what Iraq will look like next month is on drugs. This place could go "failed state" in a flash. Though "failed state" is a ridiculous understatement considering the size, population, arms etc. This ain't Afghanistan or Somalia.

Matt keeps hinting around like there is something specific he wants Kerry to say.

My counterintuitive guess is that because of fear of branding the Democratic Party "peaceniks"; because he actually appreciates soldiers and doesn't want another "in vain" story like Vietnam;
because he actually gives a shit about the Iraqi people....

Kerry will be considerably tougher and more violent in Iraq than Bush and we will see more troops in Iraq than now by 2008.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 5, 2004 1:05:21 PM

Folks, we are not pulling out. Period. Get over it.

a) Once we were gone, everyone would realize we aren't coming back, and nobody else would come in to help. Iraq would quickly look like Germany during the thirty years war, the surrounding countries would each try to carve out a notch. Basra and Fallujah become Magdeburg. Maybe if you are Cheney or Rumsfeld that is a good plan.

b) Gilliard spelled it out. Since the Iraqis realize the above, once the intention became plain that we were leaving them to kill each other the only road from Baghdad to the only decent airport in Iraq becomes a gauntlet. We possibly couldn't physically leave if we wanted to. The troops would die in egress.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 5, 2004 1:15:27 PM

Your question is one which, I think, a great many people would like an answer to.

If history is any guide (and generally it is), I would say that Bush and Co. will pull a modified Afghanistan on Iraq, pulling out just enough of our troops to pacify the folks at home (and allow the media to forget that Iraq even exists), while keeping enough of them there to prop up a puppet government. Said government will dutifully continue to request a U.S. military presence thus assuring that the Military Industrial Complex will keep humming along nicely, as well as give us a convenient jumping off point for anything else we may want to do in the region. Continued instability will keep oil prices high assuring continued big profits for oil companies here at home plus assure a steady supply of terrorists who will in turn keep domestic fear levels also high, and assure a solid group of frightened GOP voters in upcoming elections.

A Kerry administration on the other hand, would likely try to actually do what we've said we're trying to do in Iraq all along which, given that it's far too late to make any of the rhetoric about building a democratic state which will spread peace and stability to the entire region come true, is doomed to some degree of failure. I would guess (and I hope), that Kerry is shrewd enough to realize this, and will attempt to modify the vision as he goes alone, thereby slowly lessening everyones expectations until they accept that the best we can hope for is a relatively (by middle eastern standards anyway) stable Iraq which doesn't threaten it's neighbors.
So I'll guess that he'll make a big pitch for international cooperation - which I think he'll probably get - thereby allowing him to significantly lessen U.S. deployment, which will bring down tensions and allow us to do something we used to be very good at doing in this country; namely, pour in massive amounts of foreign aid and end up looking like the good guys we've been pretending to be all along.

Posted by: Thomas Garza | Aug 5, 2004 1:20:34 PM

Bob, you don't think we'll be out of there by 2008?

Posted by: praktike | Aug 5, 2004 1:27:43 PM

Does anyone read the newspapers? "International cooperation"...shit. Private companies who could make tens of millions are pulling out because the goddamn mercenaries won't stick around to provide security. Provincial governors are resigning as their kids get kidnapped.

Right. France and Pakistan gonna send 5000 troops and engineers. Right.

I guess I am kinda grabbing this, but I think we have a frigging problem. Too weird for me to do much but get paranoid, but Kerry may been saddled with Somalia times ten intentionally. We get another US terrorist attack after January, 20000 American troops die in Iraq, a million Iraqis die, Kerry institues the draft, and the Republicans have a celebration. This is called "party building."

It was WWIII from the beginning. We need a million troops in Iraq now. We are not leaving.
Does anyone now realize why I was calling for full mobilization in 2002?

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 5, 2004 1:31:36 PM

Praktike, we are at the top limit of oil production now, and Iraq is providing part of that. Without American troops I think we see $100+ a barrel oil in six months. Same will be true but worse in 4 years.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 5, 2004 1:34:47 PM

In the real world any chance for the U.S. to do anything positive in Iraq vanished a year ago.

1. Letting the Iraqi army vanish instead of surrendering.

2. Leaving a 5 year supply worth of weapons lying around unguarded.

3.Letting most industry get looted right at the start.

4. Giving most of the reconstruction contracts for the utilities to politically-connected US firms with records of missing schedules and budgets. It should have been a combination of local people and the firms who originally built the facilities. And then keep using the same contractors no matter how many times they blow it.

5. Running Abu Ghraib and the rest of the atrocities, and then whitewashing it when you're found out.

6. Forgetting to actually spend the US funds for reconstruction, but using Iraqi oil funds to pay US contractors.

7. Going out of your way to make the soveriegnity transfer to the interim government look like a puppet government.

Any one of the above would be a fatal error for an undertaking that requires most of the Iraqi people to be on the US side. If Kerry could come up with any plan that had even a 50-50 chance of success, he'd be a frigging genius.

Posted by: Tim H. | Aug 5, 2004 1:35:42 PM

I don't think either adminstration will have a clear policy. Bush will probably continue to pretend he is doing something while hawking neo-con ideals, which have proven ineffective thus far, while allowing our soldiers to operate without clear rules of engagement, thus encouraging the more rabid elements to take over and commit attrocities.

Kerry will probably send in as many troops as he can get his hands on, but that won't work either, as it will continue to bolster the occupation claims that the Arab element is making.

And neither will address the fact that Bush pulled far too many troops out of Afghanistan, leaving that action half-finished and in serious danger of failing. Although I think Iraq poses a greater danger of becoming a failed state than Afghanistan, simply because there is more will amongst the people to gain control in Afghanistan. Thus far, Iraqis have demonstrated to me absolutely no desire to do for themselves governmentally.

Posted by: flaime | Aug 5, 2004 1:35:56 PM

Gosh, maybe I can just be so wrong, but it seems to me that nobody understands what's going to happen. Maybe I'm projecting, but Kerry's plan doesn't seem any different than Bush's. We're going to allow more and more of the police force to handle problems and we're going to pull farther back to our some 14 bases.

Once there, we will provide a strike force to handle any problems that the Iraqi government can't handle themselves. But with deaths going down, everybody will be fine with bases over there.

Posted by: Chad | Aug 5, 2004 1:41:44 PM

Honestly, I would say this is very smart- why give the opposition something to bash you over the head with, when they are so busy bashing themselves with mistakes.

It isn't like he has a magic wand to erase all these horrible problems we have- but for many many of the problems, he is the magic wand. (Diplomacy is the prime one here- we will get instant benefits by putting Kerry in office)

Basically, he could just say 'I may not have an answer to all the problems facing the nation, but I can promise you I will do my best not to create new and fresh problems, like the current administration does.'

Call me an anyone-but-busher, sure, but when just about the entire world is in my camp, I feel pretty secure there.

Posted by: Chance the Gardener | Aug 5, 2004 1:46:54 PM

Depends on the situation in January, of course. Another five months of Bush's hand at the military tiller could change everything.

Posted by: ahem | Aug 5, 2004 1:50:16 PM

I'm no military expert, but I've read that when you find it necessary to fort up and concede most of the country to insurgents you've lost. And if that's your plan why not just pull out altogether? You can do air strikes from carriers just as well.

Posted by: Tim H. | Aug 5, 2004 1:53:32 PM

Said zizka: As a semi-dove I'm supporting Kerry knowing (thinking) all this -- since Kerry will certainly be less adventurist and sloppy than Dubya.

I'm not confident about the "less adventurist" part. I like Kerry on "less sloppy".

Posted by: digamma | Aug 5, 2004 2:08:01 PM

"Honestly, I would say this is very smart- why give the opposition something to bash you over the head with, when they are so busy bashing themselves with mistakes. "

It's very politically smart of Kerry, but it probable means that a significant number of people will disagree with him and vote for him not knowing not. If you are fine with him saying when elected that we're going to stay as long as it takes(or are fine with whatever he says), then your solution works as you don't care.

"I'm no military expert, but I've read that when you find it necessary to fort up and concede most of the country to insurgents you've lost. And if that's your plan why not just pull out altogether? You can do air strikes from carriers just as well."

You can't land a Marine unit and surround a town until they give in from a aircraft carrier. Once you prove you can do that from one of the bases, it deters other towns from trying the same stuff Fallujah tried.

Posted by: Chad | Aug 5, 2004 2:12:58 PM


Juan Cole on fighting in Mosul yesterday. This shit would be hilarious if not so tragic. Exactly who you gonna bomb there?

"Another group drove civilian vehicles and distributed weapons to the people, instigating them to kill the American troops"

"The anecdote even brings into question whether this was an attack of Kurdish fundamentalists from outside the city, or whether it was more homegrown."

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 5, 2004 2:24:49 PM

If we can't do it now to Fallujah with 140,000 troops, we aren't going to do it with lesser numbers from some base.

Posted by: Tim H. | Aug 5, 2004 2:25:50 PM

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