Bill O'Reilly asked Hillary Clinton the key question about the war in Iraq: What happens if we pull out and the Iranians move in? She talked around the issue, but never gave a convincing answer to O'Reilly's question. She said she would replace force with diplomacy. But, as Frederick the Great said, “Diplomacy without force is like music without instruments.” If our troops are long gone from Iraq, the Iranians will snub our diplomacy and laugh at our entireties. They will add Iraq to their other trophies in the region: Syria, Lebanon and Gaza.
Hillary's inability to answer O'Reilly's question reveals a larger flaw in the Democratic arguments as the election approaches. Obama will be the Democratic nominee (take that to the bank). How will the Iraq War play in the race? On the surface, it would appear to be a disaster for the Republicans. With American deaths now over the 4,000 mark and the seriously wounded at around 15,000, we are sick and tired of this war. It has destroyed George W. Bush and could well do the same to John McCain.
But maybe not. McCain's position is simple: win in Iraq. The experience and the success of the past year indicate that it may be quite possible to do so. But, whatever you may think of it, his is a simple solution.
What do the Democrats propose? Obama and Hillary both want to pull out as soon as technically feasible. OK. But what happens if Iran moves into the vacuum and takes over Iraq? And what if Al Qaeda takes advantage of the American absence and sets up a permanent base and sanctuary in Iraq, beyond our reach — a situation akin to the Taliban in Afghanistan where they could develop the capacity to hit us on 9-11 in their privileged, protected home territory? And what if hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who used to work with us start to be killed as happened when we pulled out of Vietnam? And what if the Iraqi oil falls into Iranian hands, sending the price even higher? And what if … The list goes on.
Obama really has no answer for these questions. Once he pulls out of Iraq, it will be politically impossible to go back in. Iran and Al Qaeda both realize this just as North Vietnam knew it when they negotiated an end to American troop presence in the South. In the context of an election debate, Obama is going to look weak and confused and without a clue as he tries to address these “what ifs.” Americans will sense the uncertain hand on the helm and will begin to second guess their decisions and move toward McCain.
If, by some chance, Hillary is the nominee, then the same problem will land in her lap and she showed in trying to parry O'Reilly's thrust, that she won't be any better at answering the doubts than Obama would be.
The truth is that the Democrats are cashing in on a mindless impatience with Iraq and an unwillingness to think through the consequences of pulling out. They are capitalizing on an emotional “no” in reaction to the war. But when the alternatives are carefully explained and examined, as they will be in a presidential debate, they are not going to embrace the answers Obama or Hillary will have to the “what ifs.” They will see the Democratic position as extremist and unworkable and will come to see the Democratic candidate who is pushing them as unprepared and unrealistic. If the candidate is Obama, their concerns will resonate with their perception that he is inexperienced and doesn't know his way around foreign policy. This will raise more and more doubts about his ability to lead us in a time of crisis.
This unholy mess in Iraq, which has almost destroyed the Republican party and has destroyed the Bush presidency, may yet rebound and work against the Democrats in the election this year.