In case you missed Monday's New York Times cover story by Jeff Zeleny, here's what he reports on the Iraq position of the three Democratic presidential front-runners for '08: "The current Iraq proposals of Mr. Obama; Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York; and former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina share more similarities than differences, including a gradual withdrawal of troops."
Keep in mind this piece is not "news analysis." It's supposed to be straight reporting. You know, just the facts.
But here's a critical fact you don't see anywhere in the regular text, either on the cover or in the continuation page on A18: John Edwards is calling for an immediate withdrawal of 40,000 to 50,000 U.S. troops. (This is noted on the continuation page but is tucked into a side graph; it's even further obscured in the corresponding online article, in an easy-to-overlook, diminutive clickable graphic.)
Now, though Edwards, like Obama and Clinton, is calling for a gradual withdrawal of troops, it is woefully misleading to omit that he first plans to bring home up to 50,000 of our soldiers. Maybe this doesn't seem like a significant distinction to Zeleny and his editors at The Times, but I think the American people, especially the families of these young men and women, would strongly disagree. This would effectively send one-third of U.S. forces back to their loved ones and out of harm's way (roughly 145,000 are currently serving in Iraq). Here's more perspective: 50,000 is nearly double the total number of troops we currently have fighting in Afghanistan (27,000). Yet this substantial number of troops, to whom Edwards would like to give an immediate get out of hell free card, is somehow not substantial enough for The Times to cite as a major differentiator.
Even on the specific call for gradual withdrawal (after sending those initial tens of thousands of soldiers back home), Edwards proposes a complete withdrawal of combat troops "in the next 12 to 18 months, by the fall of 2008." He provides no accompanying wiggle room in this plan. His opponents? Obama says he wants all combat troops to be redeployed by March 31, 2008. But redeployment "can be suspended if Congress agrees that the Iraqi government has met 13 benchmarks for progress laid out by the Bush administration." So Obama might bring home troops five-to-six months earlier than Edwards, or he might scrap this plan for redeployment altogether should Congress have a change of heart. Clinton's timetable for withdrawal? It's not included here. Though when pressed by members of an audience at a recent town hall meeting, she finally said, "If I had been president in 2003, I never would have started this war, and if it is not ended when I'm president in 2009, I will end it." Some have pointed to this as a 2009 date for withdrawal, but even that might be generous. If she begins to "end it" in 2009, who's to say when in 2009 it might actually occur, or if complete withdrawal of combat troops doesn't take place until 2010 or 2011 or even later? The longer our troops are there, the greater the opportunity there is for politicians to keep them there. And what if she's not elected, nor Edwards, nor Obama, or whoever winds up as the Democratic presidential candidate?
If leadership isn't taken on this issue now, before the next president is elected, it leaves the door wide open for a McCain or Giuliani or some other unprincipled hawk to step in and say, like Bush now, "Success is our only option." We need only look at politicians' actions during Vietnam to imagine how easily this could happen. To see how the horror that is 3,000+ troops dead and tens of thousands wounded now could be dwarfed in the future. To see how a complicit mainstream press might ride the coattails of a new strongman, one with more gravitas than George W. Bush, who decides the only way to pay tribute to the ever-mounting deaths of our soldiers is to make sure we win this war.
So here's the quick breakdown: Edwards would have them out by fall 2008. Period. End of story. Obama might have them out five or six months earlier but leaves open a potential gaping loophole that could put a kibosh on any troops leaving then, with no contingency end date should that happen. In which case, who knows how much longer they could languish in the desert? And Clinton refuses to set any firm date, saying, in effect, that she'll take care of it if she's elected.
Does this sound like they "share more similarities than differences"?
Moreover, upon closer inspection of the three Iraq proposals in the side graphic, Edwards' plan also stands in stark contrast in a couple of other decidedly critical areas.
Edwards wants to cap "financing for the troops in Iraq at 100,000 troops." Both Obama and Clinton want to cap troop levels where they were before the escalation (at roughly 145,000). But what's an extra 40,000 or 50,000 of our soldiers stuck in a senseless slaughterhouse? (Four more U.S. soldiers were killed in just the last 24 hours, three from roadside bombs; it's as predictable as it is sad.)
Finally, Edwards' proposed complete
withdrawal by fall 2008 comes with a promise to not leave behind "any permanent
U.S. military base in Iraq." Another key aspect of Edwards' plan that Zeleny and The Times find too minor
to note as a differentiator. Obama and Clinton propose no such decisive
blow to our status as occupiers.
And "decisive" is the operative word when you compare Edwards' stated Iraq proposals to those of Obama's and Clinton's. "Clear" might be another. Edwards, to some degree, as opposed to his opponents, has stuck his neck out. And his proposals are neither gimmicky, muddled nor hedged. He calls for immediate action, with clear dates and no loopholes. By downplaying Edwards' differences in the service of this article, Zeleny and The Times not only mislead their readers and misrepresent a presidential candidate's views, but also detract from an honest national discourse on how to proceed in Iraq.