If they were being honest, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would say: “I want to pull all of our combat troops out of Iraq regardless of the consequences. Sure, a huge civil war could break out which would kill millions of people, foment international terrorism, and destabilize the entire region, but frankly I don’t give a damn. As long as our troops are home safe and sound, I’ll be happy.”
But rather than leveling with the electorate they continue to pretend that they can bring all of our combat brigades home and still leave behind a stable Iraq. Kind of like eating as many Twinkies as you like and still staying thin. Actually they go further and claim that the more Twinkies you eat, the thinner you will get: They contend that the faster we are to set a date certain for withdrawal, the more likely it is that Iraqi factions will reconcile with one another.
This is what they said in their last debate, January 31, in Los Angeles:
Clinton: At the same time, we have got to tell the Iraqi government there is no — there is no more time. They are out of time. They have got to make the tough decisions they have avoided making. They have got to take responsibility for their own country.
Obama: I do think it is important for us to set a date. And the reason I think it is important is because if we are going to send a signal to the Iraqis that we are serious, and prompt the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds to actually come together and negotiate, they have to have clarity about how serious we are.
It is indeed possible (though far from certain) that greater American pressure could make Iraqi politicos push through much-needed reconciliation legislation, such as the provincial powers law, but only if they think that by doing so they can forestall the evacuation of American forces which, it is generally agreed, would result in a bloodbath.
If, on the other hand, the message that we send to Iraqis is that we intend to withdraw soon, regardless of what they do, what incentive, precisely, do they have to make compromises? The overwhelming incentive under those circumstances would be to do nothing (such as sharing oil revenue) that might empower a competing faction that you may shortly be fighting in an all-out civil war. A guarantee of American disengagement is, thus, likely to retard rather than to advance the kind of political progress that Clinton and Obama claim to want.
A more self-defeating strategy is hard to imagine. The long-run consequence would be to make more likely another American intervention in Iraq under far less favorable circumstances than those that prevail today.
This article appears in full on CFR.org by permission of its original publisher. It was originally available here.