During presidential campaigns, foreign policy pledges (P) can be on many occasions a little detached from the real world. Because the real world as presented by a candidate would often be a summary of what enhances his/her P, let’s call it background (B). How to get to P given B is the plan (X), which can be understood as a collection of bullet points and sound bites likely evolve during the elections year. A flexible X is perfectly valid and probably desirable in light of the volatile international environment we live in and the moulding nature of a candidate’s character (Y) while attempting to reach one and all. Therefore, the question arises of where Senator Obama, Senator Clinton, and Senator McCain stand now on the debate about Iraq and security contractors?
P: Senator Obama promises that he will immediately begin to remove US troops from Iraq. However, his stance towards security contractors deployed in the country remains ambiguous. He has failed to answer whether his proposed troop withdrawal will be accompanied by either a reduction or an increase of security contracting. Now that campaign focus is shifting to economic issues, he has also failed to elaborate on the costs retreat would signify in terms of demobilization expenditure, unfulfilled contractual obligations, and the vacation of US influence in the region.
X: Senator Obama plans to remove one to two combat brigades each month and accomplish withdrawal within 16 months. Evidently this plan involves that all other variables would remain equal (Mr. Obama’s B), which accounts for one of the most common oversights on foreign policy making. Gordon Brown made a similar pledge before becoming Prime Minister. His government has nonetheless announced that gradual withdrawal has been effectively put on hold due to the deteriorating security situation in Basra. In addition, Mr. Obama argues that he would engage representatives from all levels of Iraqi society in order to accomplish his plan. Does Mr. Obama believe this is not part of the current strategy and that Iraqis would suddenly start listening to him?
Y: The angry outbursts of some of Senator Obama’s associates are worrying. Let’s hope that if elected he will be more selective of his confidants and advisers.
P: In a more detailed manner, Senator Clinton promises the same as Obama, that is, phased redeployment at the same time as stability in Iraq is somehow gradually secured during her premiership. In contrast to Obama, her stance towards security contractors has been more hostile than ambiguous, as noted on a previous post. Moreover, same as Obama, she has not addressed the economic implications of swift retreat. Indeed, it is necessary to stress that swift retreat can be more expensive that swift deployment, because in addition to what was noted above large segments of reconstruction infrastructure and investment would need to be written off.
X: Although Senator Clinton’s plan seems to suffer from the same B oversights as Obama’s, she does acknowledge that an intensive diplomatic initiative in the region needs to be part of the plan, which scores on her favour and should be noted. She is also more articulated on her proposal for a wider UN involvement in the reconstruction effort. However, scepticism lingers on the air about the willingness of the UN to play such a large role. Think about the faith of Sudan’s Darfur, a substantially smaller tragedy, if you want to entertain scenarios about broad UN deployment in Iraq.
Y: It is hard to tell what Senator Clinton was thinking when implying that she was deeply involved in the Northern Ireland peace process and that bullets flew over her head when landing in the Balkans in the 1990s.
P: Senator McCain’s pledge is a textbook case of realist strategy: more troops bringing more security and more security facilitating political and economic reconstruction. His public stance towards security contractors and their role on his proposal remain underdeveloped. Yet, if elected, there are reasons to suspect they will continue to play an important role on the reconstruction strategy. Nevertheless, we believe he has failed to coherently set ceilings to his pledge in terms of budget, timeframe, and troop numbers and rotation.
X: Senator McCain points out the need to bolster troops on the ground, implement new counterinsurgency strategy, strengthen the Iraqi armed forces and police, keep senior US officers in place, and call for international pressure on Syria and Iran. The multilateralism he increasingly talks about, however, has so far not been fully integrated into his P as well as the necessary diplomatic rounds associated with it.
Y: We modestly suggest that Senator McCain develops ‘straight talk’ for a younger audience and straight talk his campaign team into getting to grips with internet optimization and social networking.
April 1, 2008