A Bad Anti-War Litmus Test
Earlier this year I tried, unsuccessfully, to spur some talk in the progressive blogosphere about the provisions made in most Iraq troop withdrawal plans for "residual" forces to fight terrorist cells, deter foreign intervention, and prevent wholesale communal "cleansing." I did so in the hopes of illustrating a progressive consensus, extending even into the ranks of Republicans, for a formula of eliminating our conventional combat presence in Iraq while acknowledging a continuing obligation to keep the country from going completely to hell in a handbasket--at a time when the obsession with withdrawal timetables and deadlines seemed to obscure this consensus.
Well, the subject has finally come up in the blogosphere, but in the context of growing efforts to suggest a bright-line difference between Hillary Clinton and her main rivals. Today at MyDD, Matt Stoller seized on HRC's discussion of a residual commitment to Iraq to fight terrorists and deter foreign intervention to suggest that she's beyond the pale for anti-war Democrats:
There is just no way that she can say that she will end the war and that she will continue a military mission in Iraq to contain extremists and ward off Iran. Those are mutually exclusive.
There's one big problem with Matt's anathema: it would also apply to Barack Obama, John Edwards, and quite a few other Democrats generally considered to be unimpeachably anti-war.
Obama's Iraq withdrawal plan explicity calls for a "residual force" to stay in the country to fight terrorists and deter foreign intervention. John Edwards, who has emphasized the need for immediately withdrawing half the current troop deployment, has also talked about a continuing if limited military commitment. And even such withdrawal hardliners as John Kerry, Russ Feingold and Jack Murtha have supported the same kind of commitment through an "over the horizon" force prepared to re-intervene at a moment's notice, and even a "minimal" force, presumably special ops counter-terrorism units, operating within Iraq.
So if Matt Stoller or anyone else wants to make total withdrawal of every single boot on the ground, and a promise to foreswear any residual "military mission" in Iraq, the new litmus test, HRC is not the only candidate who would flunk. In fact, it would pretty much limit the "true progressive" choice to Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel.
UPDATE: Matt Yglesias, an anti-Iraq war warrior of long standing, reacted to this post by generally agreeing with it, though he disputed my obiter dicta digression into the views of Kerry, Feingold and Murtha, whose "over the horizon" force proposal Matt considers "qualitatively different" from a true "residual force" in Iraq. (That may be true, but in terms of Stoller's litmus test, any military commitment to a future, hypothetical intervention in Iraq is unacceptable). But Matt Y. does concede that Obama and Edwards haven't made "ironclad" total withdrawal commitments, and that those Dems who basically want to forbid U.S. military force commitments in the Middle East ought to be supporting Denny the K. --