Democrats are slowly but surely uniting around a plan for military withdrawal designed by the Center for American Progress, a think tank linked to Clinton-era Democrats and headed by former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta.
Not all the party leaders agree. Senator Hillary Clinton continues to posture as a military hawk. Senator Joe Biden wants to dilute and divide Iraq into three sectarian enclaves. Neither Senator Charles Schumer nor Representative Rahm Emanuel, who are charged with winning November’s elections, have a coherent message on Iraq, preferring themes like “corruption” and “incompetence” to a straightforward alternative.
Despite the timidity and paralysis, however, Democrats on the campaign trail increasingly know they must address the war. Polls show that Iraq is dragging down ratings for the President and the Republican Party. Democrats prefer to simply criticize the Administration’s handling of Iraq without discussing an exit plan of their own. This Democratic approach worked brilliantly on Social Security, where Bush could find no Democratic divisions to exploit. John Kerry’s presidential campaign tried the same approach on Iraq but discovered that Kerry was losing both centrist and progressive voters. Today, the most common concern voters have about the Democratic Party is whether it stands for anything.
Late last September, Lawrence Korb and Brian Katulis first floated their plan for “strategic redeployment.” The two authors have credible–that is, conservative–credentials; Korb was assistant defense secretary under Ronald Reagan, and Katulis is associated with the “soft power” approach of promoting security through civic-society initiatives abroad.
Their proposal is framed in hawkish rhetoric. By occupying Iraq, they argue, the United States is increasing the global terrorist threat. “Strategic redeployment” redefines military withdrawal not as a retreat but as shifting US forces to new battlefields in Afghanistan, Africa and Asia, while basing expeditionary forces in the Persian Gulf and Kuwait in case postwithdrawal Iraq goes the way of South Vietnam.
The purpose of an Iraq peace, in their view, is to better prepare for other wars on the frontiers of empire and, further, to “prevent an outbreak of isolationism in the United States.”
Leaving the framing rhetoric aside for the moment, the core propositions of the CAP paper point to a nearly complete US withdrawal in the next eighteen months. They are to:
§ Immediately reduce our troop presence at a rate of 9,000 per month to a total of 60,000 by the end of 2006, and to “virtually zero” by the end of 2007.
§ Bring home all National Guard units this year.
§ Double the number of US troops in Afghanistan, place an Army division in Kuwait, an expeditionary force in the Persian Gulf and an additional 1,000 special forces in Africa and Asia.
§ Shift the central paradigm of Iraq policy “from nation-building to conflict resolution.”