Yesterday’s Washington Post had an article comparing and contrasting Democratic presidential candidates’ positions, as reflected in their DNC Winter Meeting speeches, about exactly how rapidly (assuming they endorse any sort of withdrawal “timetable”) they want to get U.S. troops out of Iraq. And over at DKos, Trapper John provided a handy-dandy list with the number of months before withdrawal for each candidate’s plan, followed up by a poll of Kossacks on their preference.This is all nice and neat, but there’s one problem that I tried to draw attention to last week: it’s not at all clear which troops would be withdrawn under some of the various proposals. Barack Obama’s plan sets a “goal” for withdrawal of “combat brigades” by the end of March, 2008, but also says: “A residual U.S. presence may remain in Iraq for force protection, training of Iraqi security forces, and pursuit of international terrorists.” And even the Kerry-Feingold resolution of last summer, generally thought of as the gold standard of “fixed withdrawal deadline” proposals, exempted from its entire withdrawal timetable “the minimal number of forces that are critical to completing the mission of standing up Iraqi security forces, conducting targeted and specialized counterterrorism operations, and protecting United States facilities and personnel.”Words like “residual” and “minimal” suggest we’re not talking about a lot of troops, but who really knows? And who will make that determination if not the Bush administration? I raise this point not to annoy people with details, but because the growing obsession of many antiwar folks–and for that matter, of their critics– with calendar dates may miss the more fundamental question that needs to be raised about Iraq: which missions would we be turning over to the Iraqis, and which missions would be continued, and for how long? Isn’t that at least as important as how many months a given proposal would provide for withdrawal of an ill-defined number of troops?
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
This year’s big media narrative has been the confirmation saga of Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget. At New York I wrote about how over-heated the talk surrounding Tanden has become.
Okay, folks, this is getting ridiculous. When a vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the nomination of Neera Tanden was postponed earlier this week, you would have thought it presented an existential threat to the Biden presidency. “Scrutiny over Tanden’s selection has continued to build as the story over her uneven reception on Capitol Hill stretched through the week,” said one Washington Post story. Politico Playbook suggested that if Tanden didn’t recover, the brouhaha “has the potential to be what Biden might call a BFD.” There’s been all sorts of unintentionally funny speculation about whether the White House is playing some sort of “three-dimensional chess” in its handling of the confirmation, disguising a nefarious plan B or C.
Perhaps it reflects the law of supply and demand, which requires the inflation of any bit of trouble for Biden into a crisis. After all, his Cabinet nominees have been approved by the Senate with a minimum of 56 votes; the second-lowest level of support was 64 votes. One nominee who was the subject of all sorts of initial shrieking, Tom Vilsack, was confirmed with 92 Senate votes. Meanwhile, Congress is on track to approve the largest package of legislation moved by any president since at least the Reagan budget of 1981, with a lot of the work on it being conducted quietly in both chambers. Maybe if the bill hits some sort of roadblock, or if Republican fury at HHS nominee Xavier Becerra (whose confirmation has predictably become the big fundraising and mobilization vehicle for the GOP’s very loud anti-abortion constituency) reaches a certain decibel level, Tanden can get out of the spotlight for a bit.
But what’s really unfair — and beyond that, surreal — is the extent to which this confirmation is being treated as more important than all the others combined, or indeed, as a make-or-break moment for a presidency that has barely begun. It’s not. If Tanden cannot get confirmed, the Biden administration won’t miss a beat, and I am reasonably sure she will still have a distinguished future in public affairs (though perhaps one without much of a social-media presence). And if she is confirmed, we’ll all forget about the brouhaha and begin focusing on how she does the job, which she is, by all accounts, qualified to perform.