This is an analysis of the Democratic presidential candidates’ positions on Iraq on the brink of the Democratic debate to be held in Los Angeles on January 31 and the February 5 primaries. Republican policies and proposals will be subject of a subsequent memo.
While Republicans generally are determined to achieve military victory in Iraq and long-term “overwatch” no matter the cost, the Democrats all promise to “bring the troops home.” But Democrats disagree over timetables for withdrawal. Perhaps more important, when they talk about troop reduction, the Democrats really mean combat troops, and pulling out combat troops would still leave most American forces in Iraq.
Perhaps most important, the Democratic candidates would leave behind enough US troops for a transition that could turn Iraq into a counterinsurgency war very much like Central America in the 1970s. If, for example, they leave 15,000 US trainers behind, some 60,000 to 70,000 total American troops would be needed for support. Additionally, there is little if any discussion of how many private security contractors would remain, but the numbers could be over 40,000. Therefore there could be 100,000 American military personnel in Iraq after the departure of all combat troops.
There still is time for voters and the media to demand a clarification of these important issues and differences, especially since 90 percent of California Democratic voters want our troops out within one year, according to last week’s Los Angeles Times. Here are the key issues:
1: The withdrawal of American combat troops.
One year timetable. Would withdraw all US combat and other troops within one year. Edwards supported authorization of the war, but later reversed his position.
Sixteen-month to eighteen-month timetable. Would withdraw all US combat troops within that time frame. Obama opposed the war in 2002.
No specific timetable. Would begin near-term withdrawal of combat troops, but sees a “remaining military mission” in Iraq. No fixed deadline for withdrawal. Clinton supported authorization of the war.
The fact is that frontline “combat” troops comprise only 20 percent to 25 percent of US military personnel in Iraq. Essential backup logistical tasks–intelligence analysts, drivers, guards, helicopter crews, mechanics and so forth–will have to be performed by Americans for remaining Americans and for Iraq troops in the future. “70,000 or more troops might have to stay for a considerable time.”