WITHDRAWAL….Why were all three of the leading Dem candidates at last night’s debate unwilling to promise a full withdrawal from Iraq by 2013? James Joyner takes a guess:

There’s no doubt that the major candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination are reluctant to give a firm commitment on withdrawing troops from Iraq. The reason, I suspect, is that there’s a vast difference in running for president and running for Congress. Those with a plausible chance of being elected Commander in Chief have much less luxury to be glib and reactionary in their foreign policy pronouncements, since they would actually have to execute those policies upon taking office.

I don’t think this holds water. Candidates make promises all the time and then break them. And this one is even easier to break than most: there are certain to be dozens of events over the next four years that will provide a president with a perfectly plausible excuse to stay in Iraq even if he or she had promised otherwise during the campaign.

I think the problem is simpler: the major Dems aren’t promising to get out of Iraq because they don’t think it’s a winning position. Even in the Democratic primaries, they don’t think it’s a winning position.

Why? Perhaps they’ve decided that the median Democratic voter isn’t really as hellbent on total withdrawal as the median liberal blogger. Perhaps they think that a promise to begin withdrawing is good enough for most people. Perhaps they think that a firm promise to withdraw runs the risk of hurting them in the general election — and anything that even remotely looks like a flip-flop would hurt them even more. Perhaps they’re scared of elite Beltway opinion. Perhaps they genuinely believe that we need to keep some troops in Iraq.

But whatever it is, they’ve all apparently decided that taking a fuzzy withdrawal position isn’t going to hurt them too badly. They don’t think advocates of total withdrawal are going to punish them enough at the polls to make a bolder position necessary. Time will tell if they’re right.

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