Nelson on Iraq: Calls for Troop Reduction But Recognizes Long Term Commitmentby Kyle Michaelis
|It doesn't make me particularly popular with readers, but I have genuine
respect and admiration for Senator Ben Nelson's cautious and well-reasoned
position on the war in Iraq. Today's Lincoln
Journal-Star includes Nelson's honest assessment of where things should head
[Sen. Ben] Nelson said he favors transforming the U.S. military mission in Iraq without setting any troop withdrawal date. Iraqi forces need to take responsibility for security and stability in Baghdad, he said, while U.S. troops "go after al-Qaida in a much more robust way." That transition naturally would lead to a reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq, Nelson said. "We need to challenge the Iraqi government to do what it needs to do" to reach political accommodation and stabilize the country, he said. "But we'll have a presence there for a long period of time," Nelson said.It saddens me to see how anti-war activists, the media, and the Republican Right have worked together to re-imagine the 2006 election as being driven by a single supposed demand for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, setting an irresponsible and self-serving standard that undermines the more general cries for change that were truly at the root of the Democratic Party's success.
Nevermind that this destructive fantasy neglects every other failure and outrage during years of Republican corruption and abuse. Probably worst is how the Democratic Presidential candidates have allowed their positions to be defined and dictated by this false construct, forcing them to extremes that will ultimately hurt their candidacies while making responsible Democratic legislators look weak and any true Congressional reforms impossible.
Voters should be wary of Nelson's statement that "we'll have a presence (in Iraq) for a long period of time" - not because he's wrong but because we can't lose sight of the goal of withdrawal. But, to do so responsibly requires the sort of change in strategy Nelson is talking about and can help make a reality - if Democrats avoid the sort of demagoguery that doomed the Republicans in 2006 and that got us in this mess in the first place.
|It is going to fall to our next President to set the terms of our commitment
to the Iraqi people and - hopefully - our military's withdrawal from their
country. It is good to be talking about exit plans, but they are no excuse and
no replacement for an actual strategy.
Battles over cutting funding for the war and when to demand complete withdrawal will not only hurt the Democratic Party's larger agenda but will also force precisely the sort of gridlock and inaction that will put our Armed Forces and our next President in even worse positions. The Bush Administration, Republican filibusters, and the prevailing uncertainty about our mission in Iraq are all realities we must deal with if any true progress is to be made.
The coming Congressional debate does not need to be a zero-sum game between warring partisan factions. There is room for principled stands and impassioned debate without giving in to the easy rallying cries and expected brinkmanship from both sides that would close the door to compromise and leave President Bush completely unchecked by Congressional authority. What Nelson offers is a path to avoid this worst-of-all-worlds, "do-nothing Congress"-scenario that is otherwise so likely and so damaging to the entire cause of Democratic reform.
This isn't to say that Nelson can be trusted implicitly. In this coming debate, he must remain stronger than he sometimes has in years and on issues past - asking tough questions, demanding honest answers, and insisting on accountability. If he can do that, he will have served the people of Nebraska and this country honorably - keeping faith with the ideologically diverse Nebraska voters who re-elected him in the real 2006 election.