Friday, November 11, 2005

Kerry and McCain Get Into It Over Iraq

By Tom Hayden

A glimmer of actual debate over Iraq is emerging in the US senate between two U.S. Vietnam War heroes, John McCain and John Kerry. McCain, in a speech today, unfortunately called for more troops to be sent into the meatgrinder of Iraq, endorsing a new theory among insiders that safe havens, or "oil stains", must first be established before they can spread. The theory, which assumes that millions of Iraqis are just waiting to take cover under the umbrella of foreign occupation, is more likely to leave blood stains -- both American and Iraqi -- than islands of stability.

Politically, the hawish McCain speech "balances" his sharp attacks on U.S. policies of torture, and puts both the president and the Hillary Clinton-Joe Biden Democrats on the spot.

McCain's speech was critical of Kerry, who two weeks ago proposed a political settlement joined to a 12-15 month withdrawal.

Kerry says McCain "mischaracterizes" his views. Kerry wants the 20,000 troops recently sent for the Dec. 15 elections to be withdrawn immediately afterwards, while McCain wants them to stay and grow in number. Kerry argues that McCain's plan for escalation "only exacerbates the sense of American occupation."

Kerry's position is a modest one, to bring home the troops sent for the Dec. 15 election when the election is over. His stand, however, blunts the ability of Bush to take credit for the December withdrawal, while McCain puts pressure on Bush to choose an unpopular path of troop increases at a time when the armed forces are stretched to the breaking point and public opinion is running strongly against the war.

Kerry's position -- a poliical settlement coupled with a 12-15 month pullout -- puts pressure on the Democratic hawks and fence-sitters as they enter the 2006 election year asking for the support of disgruntled voters.

The anti-war movement is not likely to embrace Kerry's position, at least not uncritically. But finding a way to break the ice in the Senate will put Iraq on the front pages and encourage stronger anti-war voices and candidates in the elections just around the corner. And that's not good news for Bush and his political team, whose plan has been to make Americans forget Iraq during the next year.

When the elephants fight each other, even when the elephants and donkeys fight, the grasshoppers can chirp more loudly.


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