IRAQ AFTER NOVEMBER….David Brooks writes today that a Democratic president would face a ruined presidency if he or she tried to make good on a promise to immediately withdraw American troops from Iraq. Unfortunately, I find his argument scarily plausible:

Both Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have seductively hinted that they would withdraw almost all U.S. troops within 12 to 16 months. But if either of them actually did that, he or she would instantly make Iraq the consuming partisan fight of their presidency.

There would be private but powerful opposition from Arab leaders….important sections of the military….nonpartisan military experts….Republicans and many independents….They would accuse the new administration of reverse-Rumsfeldism, of ignoring postsurge realities and of imposing an ideological solution on a complex situation.

…. Therefore, when a new Democratic administration considered all these possibilities, its members would part ways. A certain number of centrists would conclude that rapid withdrawal is a mistake….The left wing of the party would go into immediate uproar. They’d scream: This was a central issue of the campaign! All the troops must get out now!

Bill Arkin, a reliably lefty military expert, said much the same thing yesterday: neither victory (McCain) nor withdrawal (Obama) is really a feasible option anymore. His reasoning is similar to Brooks’s, but a bit more focused:

If either victory or withdrawal is elected, I imagine that the public will expect its new president to implement his campaign pledge. Yet both, at least according to shrewd observers of the United States military and senior officers in the U.S. military command, are impossibilities.

One might say it doesn’t matter what the U.S. military wishes and that the new president will decide and issue the orders. Actual governance, of course, doesn’t work that way, and every sign and precedent point to a national security establishment that has already come to conclusions as to what is possible.

….Of course there’s rhetoric involved what the candidates say, and maybe by next January McCain and Obama will move closer to Hillary Clinton in their recognition of what is possible given how much has already been thrown into the effort and the “trend lines” that the military is creating. Come 2009 though, boy won’t the American public be shocked to find out despite what their candidates pledged, the powers that be in the national security establishment have other ideas of what will be.

I’m not sure whether I completely buy these arguments or not, but they’re food for thought. Both Clinton and Obama have been pretty careful to hedge their withdrawal commitments even though they’re running in a Democratic primary that strongly rewards a firm stand on the subject. So what are the odds that they’ll tack even further to the center in a general election? Close to certainty, I’d say.

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