Candor on Iraq from Clinton and Obama

I noted yesterday that, given Hillary Clinton’s recent trip to Iraq and Afghanistan and her detailed statements about troop levels, Barack Obama’s recent articulation of his Iraq policy was starting to look a little vague by comparison.

But I was interested to find that among their Democratic colleagues in the Senate, there was a sharp difference of opinion as to whether Obama, and Clinton for that matter, should feel compelled to come up with a comprehensive position at all.

Russ Feingold, an outspoken war critic who advocates the immediate withdrawal of American troops, thinks they should.

“I would say somebody who says they are going to run for president and be president probably has to be more expansive about what they would do as president,” he told me. “Because being president is one thing and the role of congress is another.”

“My party until just now, and we’ll see what happens, has been way too slow to get this right,” he added. “No one should have voted for the war in the first place and they should have known better, it’s not hard to know better, they should have jumped on a timetable, we could have been out of this thing by now and they shouldn’t be squeamish about using the power of the purse.”

But Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia held the opposite view, arguing instead that it’s not only permissible but advisable for Obama and Clinton to keep their developing plans under wraps as long as possible.

“I think in both cases, you don’t want to lay out your ideas right away. Remember that our job is oversight, our job is authorizing and appropriating, we are not the commanders in chief,” he said. “There will be a period of time where they are gauging things, gauging each other, gauging the public. Everyone wants an immediate answer and reaction to everything that arises. It is not always the best policy.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, Obama’s colleague from Illinois, took a historical approach to make the point that voters did not expect a comprehensive alternative from candidates so far out from the actual election.

“That is not what people expect. The closest anyone came is Dwight Eisenhower, ‘I’ll bring the troops home at such and such a date.’ You look back at Vietnam, unless you were McGovern who was just resolute about ending it, by and large there was a disagreement about approach.”

But with concern building over the war in Iraq, shouldn’t a presidential candidate have a detailed plan?

“I don’t think the voters expect that of a candidate. Plus, we are two years away from any new president having the power to do anything. Each one of those proposals is a clear break from where the president is today. So that represents change and a movement in a different direction. Each one of those candidates, though they have a variation, is really speaking to the national sentiment, which is the current policy is unacceptable.”

– Jason Horowitz