"We have to decide today whether we will design the future or resign ourselves to it."
HUBERT H. HUMPHREY
As the Democratic Party’s nominee for president in 1968, Hubert Humphrey ran when an unpopular U.S. president was in his last months in office, an unpopular war was being fought overseas and a turbulent debate was underway over America’s role in the world. Today, history is repeating itself. And Humphrey’s words remain a useful guide for judging our presidential candidates and their approach to the most immediate national-security issue they face (the crisis in the Middle East), as well as the most consequential (nuclear weapons).
President Bush’s decision to “surge” additional U.S. combat forces into Iraq last spring, combined with Congress’ inability to legislate a withdrawal, guarantees that a sizable contingent of U.S. troops will be in Iraq in January 2009. The future of that American force — and more broadly, whether America should make a more determined effort to “design” the future of the Middle East — will be the most immediate issue for our next president.
The candidate chorus regarding U.S. troops in Iraq (“should they stay or should they go”) is already being heard, and rightly so: It will go far in defining America’s role in the region. That said, the essential question for voters is which of the candidates are moving beyond the issue of the status of our troops to advocate the need for a deeper economic and political commitment to the region.