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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Independent Voters Say: Give Me an Exit Strategy!

It has been widely acknowledged that Kerry has a problem differentiating himself from Bush on how to handle the Iraq situation, given that Kerry won’t commit himself to, or even talk about, an exit strategy. But it has been widely misunderstood that that problem lies in Kerry’s appeal to Democratic voters.
Personally, I think Democratic voters are likely to stick with Kerry no matter what his Iraq position–because they want to get rid of Bush so badly. What I worry about is his ability to appeal to independent voters, without some kind of exit strategy.
Consider how fed up political independents are getting with the Iraq situation. In the latest CBS News poll, an overwhelming majority of independents say the result of the war with Iraq hasn’t been worth the loss of American life and other costs of the war (67-25). And in the new ABC News/Washington Post poll, by more than 2:1 (65-32), independents believe we have gotten bogged down in Iraq. rather than making good progress.
Moreover, according to the CBS News poll, this is a group that now believes, by 52-40, we made a mistake getting involved in the war in Iraq and also believes, by 49-44, that we should have just stayed out of Iraq, rather than taking military action. Finally, independents have been in favor, for the last month, of turning over “control to Iraqis as soon as possible, even if Iraq is not completely stable” rather than having “United States troops stay in Iraq as long as it takes to make sure Iraq is a stable democracy” (essentially the Kerry position). In the latest CBS News poll, the margin among independents is 51-43 in favor of turning over control to Iraqis as soon as possible.
Despite these sentiments and the clear direction of change among these voters–toward less and less interest ins staying the course and more and more interest in an exit strategy–Kerry has refused, so far, to even mention the “E” word. Why?
One reason may be because he believes it would be wrong to simply withdraw the troops and abandon Iraq. And he’s right about that. But there are ways to talk about an exit strategy without being irresponsible; an exit strategy doesn’t mean just yanking the troops out. But it does mean setting a date to leave and a plan to turn genuine control of Iraq to an elected Iraqi government within that time frame.
James Steinberg and Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution have sketched the elements of such a plan, with an exit date of the end of 2005, hardly a precipitate departure. Other sober-minded foreign policy analysts like Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, have called for a similar approach.
An exit strategy: it’s not just for hard-core peaceniks anymore. Increasingly, mainstream analysts and mainstream voters–i.e., independent, swing voters–are leaning in that direction as well. Kerry has a chance to reach these voters with something clear and definite about how he intends to get the US out of Iraq. And if he doesn’t, who’s to say that Bush might not put one on the table first?
That’s something to be avoided. C’mon, John, can you say E-X-I-T? I think you can.

35 comments on “Independent Voters Say: Give Me an Exit Strategy!

  1. Lawrence on

    And besides, this thread is about whether Kerry should declare an exit strategy – and I agree that we shouldn’t expose ourselves to republican mud throwing by advocating cutting and running. In my opinion, the exit strategy should be to share the pain by bringing in as many other countries as we can manage.

  2. Lawrence on

    ” It stands, however, that we could have won if the president would have allowed us to instead of following containment.”
    NeoFascist: I appreciate that you are trying to debate with us in a polite way, but I would urge you to read a book or two about Vietnam (and the Clinton administration as well, since you don’t remember “no exit strategy” as one of the two top reasons republicans opposed every military action that Clinton took) before you try and make arguments. I can assure you that the United States Army does not teach its soldiers that the Vietnam War was winnable. We were trying to prop up a corrupt government that did not have any support from the South Vietnamese people. So far from making any inroads in defeating North Vietnan, we never even set foot over the border, since we were too busy fighting north vietnamese soldiers, and south vietnamese sympathizers, inside of South Vietnam. Just to declare that we could have won does not constitute an argument, and does not correspond to the opinion of any military analyst currently working for the United States Armed Forces.

  3. micah68 on

    IMHO – it is way too early for Kerry to get very specific about how he plans to pull out. Kerry very well may be the next president, but he is not president yet and he has no power to act on any plan. If he pushes for an E-X-I-T he very well may incite more violence from the people who want us gone yesterday. And, as a Vietnam vet, he is unwilling to encourage further unnecessary bloodshed. The best he can do now is push Bush to do things that lessen the risks our soldiers face. When victory becomes more certain, he can get more specific.

  4. bt on

    frankly0 wrote:
    “What I believe most Americans really want is to feel good about how America has acted in Iraq. We want to feel some measure of real PRIDE in who we are as Americans, and what we have done abroad. For many of us, perhaps the worst part of the Bush administration behavior in Iraq is that it has shamed us as a nation — and the prisoner abuse is most inescapable example. We need to feel that these problems have been corrected,. That is more important to us as a nation than whether our foray into Iraq happens to succeed or fail.
    What Kerry CAN do, and DOES have real control over, is see to it that the US acts honorably in Iraq, so that we can restore our sense of national pride.
    I think it is far more important, even politically, for Kerry to address this problem than it is to find an exit strategy out of Iraq.”
    I think these are perceptive comments. I hadn’t made the link between supporting Kerry and restoring our national honor but I think frankly0 is right that Bush has both dishonored our country and that many Americans feel that way, or at minimum that he has deeply let them down.
    I can’t agree, though, that Kerry has any ability to control whether the US acts honorably–not until he’s in the White House, that is. Until then he’s only able to talk about what he would do.
    And I am not sure I think Kerry would help himself by going on the offensive with this point.
    But what I suspect will happen is that the Bush campaign will give him an opening to make this argument at some point later in the campaign when it will matter most–with either an over-the-top charge of the sort they are now justly famous for, or an atrociously off-the-mark attempt to brag about what a great job they’re doing in the war on terror. This argument is an arrow I hope he keeps in his quiver until the time is right. A bit of well-timed righteous indignation, perhaps in one of the debates, could help.
    Today I took one small step to try to communicate a message associating Kerry with restoration of our national honor. For the first time in my life (I turned 45 yesterday) I attached a small American flag decal to my car bumper sticker–placing it right next to my Kerry bumper sticker.
    Finally, to any readers who are veterans I wish to say: thank you.

  5. wellbasically on

    PS there is one more thing: it’s more important to understand when Bush lost the Iraqis… Juan Cole says it was mid-March, when the USA supported the Israeli bombing of Yassin.

  6. wellbasically on

    Ugh, I hate to tack a comment on at the end of this… when things have gone so far OT… but the best exit strategy would be one tied to a democratic vote by the Iraqis. Say that we would have a referendum in Jan 2005 where the Iraqis would get to vote on whether we stay or go, and what the timetable would be.
    By leaving it up in the air, Bush is encouraging the political contenders to engage in a competition of who says we should leave sooner. Kerry can’t control that, but he can leave it up to the people who ultimately decide it either way.
    Either they control us democratically or they will control us with their support for the rebels.

  7. Eldon on

    All-out war in Vietnam and we would have faced the very strong likelihood of fighting the Red Army, which would have consequently involved surrender or nuclear weapons. Only imperialists play with such odds. And only American leaders have been so conquest-driven. The American people aren’t. If you are defending yourself, you don’t need an exit strategy. If you are the initiator, read aggressor, you either have to have an exit strategy or a blindly supportive populace. When Americans think they have been attacked and provoked, they will go to any length and any sacrifice. Short of that, politicians best have an exit strategy when their trick doesn’t work. Bush’s trick is unraveling. What was done to us on 9/11 does not justify all-out war against the people who didn’t do it. First graders on the playground are smart enough to figure that out.

  8. NeoFascist? on

    Please forgive me, Ron. The Vietnam Conflict was waaaay before my time. It stands, however, that we could have won if the president would have allowed us to instead of following containment.

  9. Ron Thompson on

    That is a stunningly stupid statement, even by your standards, NeoFascist. But it’s easy to understand why President Kennedy couldn’t approve a follow-up to the Tet Offensive. President Kennedy was four years in his grave before the Tet Offensive began at the end of January, 1968.

  10. NeoFascist? on

    I agree that it would help if we didn’t shoot at people. Unfortunately, we have to shoot at people who are shooting at us, and I wish our soldiers were allowed to shoot at militants who are an immenent threat to them. At present, a militant Iraqi can walk down the street carrying an M-16 or a rocket launcher, and our soldiers can do nothing about it.
    I wish we could wage all-out war against the militants currently in Iraq. I doubt that we would make many more enemies if we are fighting against those who wish to do us harm, and if potential militants saw us attacking the Iraqi militants, the potential militants would be less likely to attack us.
    As for Vietnam, the North Vietnamese army was crippled as a result of the Tet Offensive. It was a stunning victory for the US, but the media made it sound like a horrible loss. If we had been allowed to strike the North Vietnamese army while it was crippled, we could have won the war. However, policies of limited warfare kept us from attacking without President Kennedy’s consent. By the time we were able to do anything, the North Vietnamese army was back on its feet.

  11. reignman on

    No one said we should be, and one great way to take care of “bad persons” who don’t like us is to put our soldiers in a position where they aren’t a shooting gallery. If you shoot them, then more and more people get pissed off at you., whether they should or not.

  12. NeoFascist? on

    “we are creating new ‘enemies’ every day…”
    Well, if someone is a bad person, I don’t see any reason to buddy up with them. These enemies that you speak of are going to hate us no matter what we do. If we get on their bad side, tough luck. I would rather not be friends with those who dislike us and foster oppressive regimes, anyway.

  13. Tyrone on

    It’s the Nixon-to-China thing. A Democrat cannot advocate exit or withdrawal without being labelled as a pacifist peacenik, as Dean was. In order to maintain credibility on security issues (already his biggest vulnerability) Kerry has to appear relatively hawkish, even out-hawking the hawks.
    Just doing so more honestly than Bush, perhaps.

  14. Free Huey on

    we are creating new “enemies” every day, why? will there be peace in iraq when we leave, and freedom? how?
    we can’t just play texas cowboys for a few more weeks and then abandon the whole region I’m afraid.
    after all “iraq freedom” was the main reason for going there (and, of course, oil and money – in the usual conservative mixture of greed, racism, violence and corruption)

  15. NeoFascist? on

    Here’s an exit strategy for you:
    Win the War, don’t be cordial with enemy militants. Kill them or capture them. We can win that way and get out of Iraq.

  16. tomtom on

    uh, neofascist,
    The lesson we kinda learned from Vietnam is that you don’t go into a war of choice without an exit strategy. Because you don’t want to get stuck in a quagmire.
    Heard of the Powell doctrine?
    Kosovo, Somalia? Lots of folks demanded an exit strategy, although those interventions were too small to threaten to become a quagmire. Certainly there was no way Grenada would become a quagmire.
    Don’t want quagmire… want exit strategy…
    Is this too hard to understand or something?
    By the way, now a war of choice is threatening to become a quagmire, because we did not have an exit strategy!

  17. reignman on

    Um…I’m pretty sure there were thousands of hippies back in the 60s that wanted us to get the f*** out of Vietnam. We were winning WWI from when we got in and always making progress. WWII was a war we were going to win no matter the cost. As for Kosovo and Mogadishu, I know that some of our soldiers died in Mogadishu, but the number of soldiers who died in Kosovo was zero, and it still is today, despite the fact that we still have peacekeeping troops there.

  18. NeoFascist? on

    You guys keep asking for an exit strategy, but there was no one whining for an exit strategy before we even went into Vietnam. Or South Korea. Or WWI or WWII. Come to think of it, when has anyone demanded an exit strategy from any president except Bush. Just wondering, what was our exit strategy in Kosovo or Mogadishu?

  19. Haggai on

    frankly0, I agree with much of what you’re saying, and I think Kerry’s already been doing a lot of it. Like when you say that Kerry “should argue that Bush has destroyed the possibility of international cooperation on Iraq by his persistent bad faith in dealing with the international community, but that he, Kerry, will try to bring in the support of the UN and an authentic international coalition.” Every time I’ve heard him talk about Iraq, he’s been emphasizing those precise things.

  20. tomtom on

    Good point frankly0. Kerry is able to convincingly talk of honor because of his military service. It is one reason I’m glad he beat Edwards.

  21. frankly0 on

    Sorry to intrude myself still again, but I think a theme that would be very important for Kerry to emphasize is the notion of restoring our national HONOR, which Bush has befouled.
    Kerry, as a decorated Vet, is in PERFECT position to push this point. I have zero doubt but that it would have far ranging appeal.
    He could articulate how, under a Kerry administration, he would correct the policies that, for example, made the prisoner abuses inevitable.

  22. tomtom on

    “Stay close to your enemy so he cannot hit you with all of his might”
    Very nice. Please notice, Ruy. most of the responses are respectfully disagreeing with your analysis.
    I agree with them. No matter what Kerry does, Iraq is Bush’s war. He owns it. Independents know this.
    If Kerry emphasizes that he would never have got us into this mess, and he will be far smarter about getting us out in a responsible fashion, that is enough. Use words like irresponsible, misleading, reckless, under-plannned, etc. Relentlessly quote and refer to hawkish critics such as Zinni & Clark. Emphasize that America is wasting its strength and prestige; that the war is making us weaker rather than stronger.
    As soon as Kerry ties himself down with specifics the Bush attack machine will go to town. If fast moving events on the ground make the Kerry plan obsolete, then Kerry is a flip-flopper. If Kerry gives a date Bush beats the date. Etc, etc, etc.
    Possibly much closer to the election Kerry can put forth a more specific plan. Now is not the time.

  23. frankly0 on

    One further point.
    It’s worthwhile to recall the exact event that seemed to precipitate the recent fall in Bush’s numbers: the prison abuse scandal.
    What does that suggest? That the thing that is most difficult for Americans to swallow is not casualties, or expense, or even policy failure, but rather damage to our national honor.
    What Kerry needs to do most urgently is articulate a strategy to regain our sense of pride in our behavior as a country.

  24. frankly0 on

    Just to follow up on my post, here’s why I think it’s most important for Kerry to come up with a plan that would represent a good faith effort to do things right in Iraq.
    What I believe most Americans really want is to feel good about how America has acted in Iraq. We want to feel some measure of real PRIDE in who we are as Americans, and what we have done abroad. For many of us, perhaps the worst part of the Bush administration behavior in Iraq is that it has shamed us as a nation — and the prisoner abuse is most inescapable example. We need to feel that these problems have been corrected,. That is more important to us as a nation than whether our foray into Iraq happens to succeed or fail.
    What Kerry CAN do, and DOES have real control over, is see to it that the US acts honorably in Iraq, so that we can restore our sense of national pride.
    I think it is far more important, even politically, for Kerry to address this problem than it is to find an exit strategy out of Iraq.

  25. frankly0 on

    It may be important for Kerry to articulate an exit strategy before the election, but I’m not sure I’m convinced on that point.
    What I DO think Kerry needs to do is demonstrate that he will make an earnest effort to right things in Iraq. He should argue that Bush has destroyed the possibility of international cooperation on Iraq by his persistent bad faith in dealing with the international community, but that he, Kerry, will try to bring in the support of the UN and an authentic international coalition. I think that he should not get hopes up very high over the potential success of such a plan, but simply point out that it is the only one with any likelihood of success. In particular, he should not PROMISE that his approach will surely succeed. A Kerry attempt to bring together an international coalition in this effort will have its own very positive effect of healing the rifts with the community of nations even if Iraq itself can’t be fixed — and the estrangement of the US from that community is most certainly the more important issue here anyway.
    I think that the American people will forgive a President for a good faith effort in Iraq that fails, particularly if the problem was not his own doing. But I do think most Americans, and indeed most other countries, want very much to feel that that a sincere effort has been made before throwing in the towel.

  26. reignman on

    Kerry doesn’t need to win this election, he just has to make sure that Bush loses. Seeing as how Bush is having more than enough trouble as it is, Kerry seems to just be sitting back and enjoying the show, and saving his energy and funds (and i hope firey rhetoric) for the last couple of months of the campaign.

  27. free patriot on

    Kerry has Bush pinned against a wall over Iraq.
    As long as Kerry does not call for a withdrawll, George is going to flip and flop to exit Iraq
    Kerry is smarter than most
    Stay close to your enemy so he can not hit you with all of his might
    In Vietnam it was called “Hug the Belt”, their tactic, not ours

  28. Joe Zainea on

    Kerry can set the end of 2005 as a date certain but Bush will turn that all topsy turvey by exiting this summer or early fall.
    There’s been too many administration people saying that “of course we will leave if the interim government asks us to”. That boys and girls is what’s called a “marker.” You can be sure that the Iraqis will ask us to leave because Bush’s people are going to arrange it.
    If independents then are so opposed to staying, imagine how happy they’ll be just before the Republican convention when Bush lets everyone know that he just had a most interesting conversation with the head of the interim government.
    This election is entirely event driven. George W Bush hasn’t come this far in his 3 1/2 year quest for re-election to let a little thing like integrity or honor to get in his way. If the RNC has to bribe the whole interim governing council, we’re getting out. After all, they’ll be sovereign then, won’t they?

  29. aenglish on

    Recognizing reality — that the Iraqi people want us out now — and will keep fighting until we leave, is never popular. This situation is totally FUBAR.
    However, the main thing is to keep the blame on Bush. Let Bush own this mess until Nov. 2. If Kerry puts out a specific plan, then it lets Bush off the hook. Kerry should stop talking about putting in more troops (the polls show that is very unpopular with independents), and just talk about how the world will cooperate in getting this mess off our hands once we vote out Bush.
    By the time, Kerry is inaugurated, the US military will be declaring victory and going home to cover up the total defeat anyway. Iraqis will either unify or start a civil war. We have no control over that. It’s their country.

  30. pericles on

    Check out what Mr. Bill, Clinton that is, has to say about Kerry’s campaign and recognise that it is too early for Senator Kerry to be “laying out an exit strategy”. You must be a relatively young person or you would recognise his strategy as the “rope-a-dope”.

  31. Bill from UW Madison on

    The problem is that we have troops there in the first place. Kerry should be calling for an immediate end to the military occupation.
    The only reason there is violence in Iraq is because Iraqi’s view the US army as an occupation force, much the way American colonists viewed the Redcoats as an occupation in the 1760s and 1770s.
    The only solution is an immediate military pullout. To do anything less is to deny Iraqi’s self-determination.

  32. Dan O on

    If the bush war had not occurred, then the U.S. would still be maintaining the no fly zones etc…
    So, Kerry has expressed an appropriate policy at this time under the present circumstances.
    Kerry will be able to get more troop support from the US allies and be able to reduce US troops on the ground substantially.

  33. Andrew on

    The problem is that Kerry is a realist enough to know that there will not be an exit from Iraq, under his watch or anyone else. The US has a long-term strategic interest in the region that contains the majority of the world’s oil. We have not begun building 18 permanent military bases in Iraq to secure the short-term peace there.
    So yes, we do need a stabilization strategy. But exit isn’t gonna happen. Kerry could still lie and say that it is until he gets elected, but he’s apparently too principaled to do that.


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