It is not often lately that I've defended Senator Hillary Clinton. More often, I've been critical of the Democratic frontrunner over everything from her support of the Patriot Act to her refusing to admit she was wrong when she voted in October 2002 to support the use of military force in Iraq (though she has noted, correctly, that the resolution authorized the use of military force specifically to make Saddam Hussein comply with U.N. sanctions, and the Bush administration focused on his letting the arms inspectors back in which he did-- so it was George Bush's decision alone to order them back out so he could invade anyway.) And I've made it abudantly clear that I've endorsed and am working for one of Clinton's Democratic primary opponents, Bill Richardson.
This week, though Clinton was correct in calling 'outrageous' an assertion made by Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman that even talking about withdrawal encourages enemy propaganda, in answer to a direct question that she asked him about whether the army was preparing a scenario for withdrawal.
The narrow reason why it was outrageous is that whether we end up withdrawing or not, to not at least have a plan for withdrawal is as foolhardy as, well, maybe invading a country without having a plan about what exactly to do after the government falls. Only a fool wouldn't at least have a plan to cover any reasonable contingency. It is only after witnessing the dumfounding incompetence we saw displayed in the weeks and months after the fall of Baghdad when we had no clue about how to run a country and let the insurgency assemble itself right under our noses that I'd even think that there would be a need to ask whether we had a withdrawal plan filed someplace and what it entailed. But having witnessed that, it is a valid question to ask.
But the broader reason why it was outrageous is one that cuts to the heart of the matter.
Sure, there will certainly be some opponents of America in Iraq who will be encouraged by the fact that we are discussing withdrawal. Just as opponents of America are encouraged by our coverage of war casualties, or as they were encouraged by our accounts of the devastation they caused on 9/11, or encouraged by the wholesale changes in our society they've witnessed as we change more towards being a xenophobic police state than we were before 9/11. I will readily concede that there are opponents of America all over the world who will take encouragement from our discussion of all of these things.
But the alternative is much worse. The alternative is to not talk about these things. If we don't, then we lose the essence of democratic discussion. How exactly are we supposed to extricate ourselves from a ruinous war if we can't even talk about getting out? Only in the twisted world of conservative logic would we put the kibosh on any discussion over getting out of a situation that has gotten worse and worse, and shows no signs of getting better.
The debate about what we will do is an American debate, and we will debate it and make decisions about what to do here in America. That is the way we do things here, and whether people in other countries choose to pay attention to what we are talking about and even take sides or make plans is irrelevant, and is certainly not a reason why we should not have the debate in the first place. Further, this war has dragged on for over four years since it was supposedly over, and we've wasted thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in order to strengthen an enemy, the cause of Islamic fundamentalism, that we were supposed to be weakening. In this context, a discussion about withdrawal is hardly a surprise. If anyone should shoulder the blame for encouraging the enemy, it is the inept leadership of this administration which has managed to fight them for years and achieved nothing beyond getting rid of a dictatorship which suppressed Islamicists in the first place.
Besides, if such discussions should not be held because they encourage the enemy, then why didn't the cacophony of voices now raised in praise of Mr. Edelman refrain from jumping all over Ms. Clinton's husband when he tried to get rid of bin Laden on August 18, 1998? Within hours, Republican Senator Dan Coats called on Bill Clinton to resign, and many others claimed that the attack (which came eleven days after the African embassy bombings) was politically motivated and should not have been launched since it took a headline away from the all-important Monica scandal. I'm sure that Osama, after realizing how getting done with his meeting early saved his neck, probably had a good belly laugh when he read the reaction of Senator Coats and others.
It is time for us to get out of Iraq. We should direct our military leadership to draw up plans for a withdrawal now, and then act on them. And no, I don't really care what our enemies think when they read that, I care that we do it because staying there any longer is not in the best interest of America. Period.