This morning, I want to examine Michael Arcuri's position on Iraq, which looks like it needs a little refinement. Here's what Arcuri said in Lansing:
"They talk about pulling the troops out, but they don't give us any cogent, any real definitive timetable bring the troops home. Look, we're there, and though I believe we should not have been there in the first place, it would just not be a good move, and it would not be smart for our country to just pull the troops out right now. It just doesn't make sense, but we need to establish a benchmark, a timetable. Sherry Boehlert wrote a five column article in the Utica paper a few weeks ago talking about the war in Iraq, and it sounded like all he was doing was exactly like what the Administration said. He said we need to set benchmarks, and those benchmarks should be handing a democracy, a democratic form of government over to the people of Iraq. Well, that sounds really good, but let's be realistic. They have never had a democracy in Iraq, and we need more substantive, tangible benchmarks, whether it's having a standing army of half a million or securing a majority of the provinces, or having a security force of a certain number. We need definitive benchmarks, and they should be established by the people who are in Iraq, not by ideologues in the Pentagon who follow the President's same philosophy. We should be talking to the troops in the field, and find out from them when we can get them home, because it really is, as my son said, we really need to get those troops home as soon as possible."
It's a challenge to figure out exactly what position Arcuri is advocating here, and how he's differentiating himself from Sherwood Boehlert. It seems, from what I can make out that Arcuri opposes a withdrawal of troops from Iraq in the near future. As an alternative, Arcuri wants America to set benchmarks for a gradual withdrawal.
That's strikingly close to the position taken by Sherwood Boehlert, but it's not exactly the same. Arcuri's critique of Boehlert seems to be that the benchmarks Boehlert suggests for withdrawal from Iraq are not tangible or realistic enough. Arcuri wants soldiers in the field to develop the criteria, through some kind of collaborative process, I suppose, for when the war will end.
That's a politically appealing message for the crowd that chants "Support Our Troops", but is it practical or even wise? Should war be a grassroots process in which the soldiers on the ground get to decide what the war is about, where they will fight, and when it will all end? Are we to replace generals with opinion surveys of people in uniform? I know that soldiers see a lot, but the truth is that soldiers also miss a lot of the big picture, being right in the action, with practical restrictions on the kind of information they're getting.
To be fair to Arcuri, there are a lot of people making this kind of suggestion. President Bush suggested something similar in his State of the Union Address, when he said that the time to withdraw from Iraq should be set by our military leaders in Iraq, and not by politicians in Washington.
Such statements make me uneasy. After all, America is still a democracy, and in a democracy, important decisions about matters of war and peace ought to be made by our elected representatives, not by appointed military officials. Military leaders should be consulted, but foreign policy and overall strategy must be determined by the civilian government.
Whether to stay in Iraq is not a military decision. It's a political decision that we must make based upon the judgment of whether the Iraq War is of any benefit to us Americans, or to the Iraqi people. Right now, the arguments for continuing the Iraq War are very weak. It's getting very difficult to pretend that the Iraq War is helping anyone, here in America or in Iraq.
Michael Arcuri's position on Iraq needs to grapple more forcefully with this difficult truth. We need a Democratic candidate who has the strenth to be specific about when and how we ought to leave Iraq. Arcuri seems to have the intelligence and integrity to come to such a stand, but his position on Iraq as it now exists needs a lot of work.