A Lack of Clarity

Thank you, Tim Russert, for dragging the truth from all the Democratic candidates about what "ending the war" actually means. We hear these words a lot, especially from Hillary Clinton, yet Russert's questioning at MSNBC's New Hampshire debate last night revealed that none of the top three Democratic contenders for president would commit to doing so by the end of their first term.

John Edwards wanted to distinguish himself from Clinton by remarking that she made clear in her talk-show blitz last Sunday she would leave combat troops in Iraq. "To me that is a continuation of the war," he said, adding he doesn't think we should leave combat troops there. She shot back quickly that those troops would be fighting al Qaeda. Obama said we must remove combat troops but leave a presence to protect our embassies, bases and civilians while engaging in "counterterrorism activities in Iraq."

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.) made the promise Clinton, Edwards and Obama — with all their nuance — could not: to pull out all troops in his first term as president. But we know not what "counterterrorism activities" will consist of in six months, let alone six years. How do we define what is a continuation of this war? We simply cannot know what sectarian violence, al Qaeda-perpetrated violence or other Iranian-influenced violence will be consuming Iraq at that point, so none of the likely Democratic nominees can say for certain — not Clinton, not Obama, not Edwards — that they would have ended our war in Iraq by 2013.

I am not saying I disagree with anything Obama, Clinton and Edwards are saying. It's just been a bit tiring to hear them beat that "end the war" drum all across the country when even they don't know what that means.


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