Democrats may unite on plan to pull troops
See Iraq withdrawal, deployment in region
By Rick Klein, Globe Staff | February 20, 2006
WASHINGTON -- After months of trying unsuccessfully to
develop a common message on the war in Iraq,
Democratic Party leaders are beginning to coalesce
around a broad plan to begin a quick withdrawal of US
troops and install them elsewhere in the region, where
they could respond to emergencies in Iraq and help
fight terrorism in other countries.
The concept, dubbed ''strategic redeployment," is
outlined in a slim, nine-page report coauthored by a
former Reagan administration assistant Defense
secretary, Lawrence J. Korb, in the fall. It sets a
goal of a phased troop withdrawal that would take
nearly all US troops out of Iraq by the end of 2007,
although many Democrats disagree on whether troop
draw-downs should be tied to a timeline.
Howard Dean, Democratic National Committee chairman,
has endorsed Korb's paper and begun mentioning it in
meetings with local Democratic groups. In addition,
the study's concepts have been touted by the senator
assigned to bring Democrats together on Iraq -- Jack
Reed of Rhode Island -- and the report has been
circulated among all senators by Senator Dianne
Feinstein, an influential moderate Democrat from
The party remains divided on some points, including
how much detail to include in a party-produced
document, fearful of giving too much fodder for
attacks by Republicans.
But in its broad outlines, many leading Democrats say
the Korb plan represents an answer to Republicans'
oft-repeated charge that Democrats aren't offering a
way forward on Iraq -- and to do so in a way that is
neither defeatist nor blindly loyal to the president.
''We're not going to cut and run -- that's just
Republican propaganda," Dean said in a speech Feb. 10
in Boston. ''But we are going to redeploy our troops
so they don't have targets on their backs, and they're
not breaking down doors and putting themselves in the
line of fire all the time. . . . It's a sensible plan.
It's a thoughtful plan. I think Democrats can coalesce
Reed, an Army veteran and former paratrooper who has
been charged with developing a party strategy on the
war, said the plan is attractive to many Democrats
because it rejects what he calls the ''false
dichotomy" suggested by President Bush: that the only
options in Iraq are ''stay the course" or ''cut and
''It's important to note that it's not withdrawal --
it's redeployment," Reed said. ''We need to pursue a
strategy that is going to accomplish the reasonable
objectives, and allow us to have strategic
flexibility. Not only is it a message, but it's a
method to improve the security there and around the
The idea of a phased deployment of troops out of Iraq
recognizes that a huge US military presence in the
country is straining the armed services as well as
feeding the insurgency, Reed said. He added that many
military commanders agree that the nation should be
moving toward taking American troops out of Iraq, to
better equip the military to respond to threats around
the world and give the Iraqi government a greater
incentive to handle its own security.
Under Korb's outline, all reservists and National
Guard members would come home this year. Most of the
other troops would be redeployed to other key areas --
Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, and the Horn of Africa --
with large, quick-strike forces placed in Kuwait,
where they could respond to crises in neighboring
Korb said in an interview that setting dates for troop
withdrawal would send a message to the Iraqi people
that the United States does not intend to set up
permanent military bases in Iraq. Starting the
redeployment quickly will ensure that the Army does
not wear out before the insurgents do, he said.
''The Iraqis want us to go," said Korb, who has
opposed Bush's decision to invade Iraq from the start.
''If you're out by the end of 2007, we'll have been
there almost five years. That's not cutting and
But some strategists say the goal of a near-total
withdrawal within two years is overly optimistic. US
troops that are a plane ride away won't be an
effective deterrent, and Iraqi security forces appear
unlikely to be able to handle the violence on their
own in the near future, said Michael O'Hanlon, a
centrist defense specialist who is a lecturer at
''You're demanding that the political system produces
a miracle," O'Hanlon said. ''Any plan that envisions
complete American withdrawal in such a period of time
is still a prescription for strategic defeat."
The war has been a source of long-running tension
among Democrats. Twenty-nine Democratic senators and
81 House Democrats voted to authorize the president to
invade Iraq, and while most are now critical of Bush's
handling of the war, some -- notably Senator Joseph I.
Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut -- remain staunch
Although ''strategic redeployment" could draw a large
portion of Democrats into the same fold, Reed and
other Democrats disagree with setting a timeline for
troop withdrawal, saying that such decisions should be
dictated by commanders on the ground.
Still, Reed noted that the Bush administration has
begun modest troop withdrawals. The Senate in November
overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for 2006
to be ''a period of significant transition to full
Iraqi sovereignty," and on Friday, the White House
issued a statement reiterating its position: ''In
2006, it is anticipated that the Iraqi military will
take more of the lead for security throughout Iraq."
But the president has strongly rejected issuing any
time frames, arguing that they would be exploited by
insurgents who would strike as soon as troops leave
Iraq. Democrats who have suggested time frames for
withdrawal have faced harsh attacks from Republicans,
who paint them as offering a strategy of defeat.
In November, Representative John P. Murtha, a
Pennsylvania Democrat, shook much of Washington with
his call for an immediate withdrawal of troops, and
his estimate that all troops could be out of Iraq
within six months. The generally hawkish Vietnam
veteran also called for quick strike forces to remain
close to Iraq -- similar to the Korb plan -- but that
was largely overlooked in the barrage from
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the Murtha
plan amounted to ''surrender to the terrorists."
Representative Jean Schmidt, Republican of Ohio,
delivered a blistering speech on the House floor aimed
at Murtha, who spent 37 years in the Marine Corps:
''Cowards cut and run, Marines never do," Schmidt
said, in remarks she later withdrew from the
The attacks on Murtha demonstrated the political peril
that could face Democrats who offer plans involving
Although Murtha has 99 House cosponsors for his plan,
some Democrats remain skittish about offering a plan
that they know would be attacked harshly -- and, they
say, almost certainly misconstrued -- by political
Still, Dean, Reed, and others in the party are trying
to develop a united Democratic vision for Iraq, based
in part on the calculation that the war will be a big
factor in many 2006 congressional campaigns.
Representative Martin T. Meehan, a Lowell Democrat who
voted in favor of the war and now supports the Murtha
plan, said that while the war remains Bush's
responsibility, Democrats should be able to tell
voters what they would do differently.
''There are a lot of different views, but I personally
believe that putting forward specifics about how to
move forward in Iraq is important to do," said Meehan,
a member of the House Armed Services Committee. ''I
would like to see Democrats coalesce around a strategy
like Korb's strategy."
This fall, in elections that Democrats hope will bring
them back to power in Congress, more than 50 military
veterans are running in congressional races as
Those candidates are asked about Iraq all the time,
and the idea of strategic redeployment is appealing to
many of them, said Eric Massa, who is challenging an
incumbent Republican in upstate New York and is
helping to organize strategy for the veterans who are
''You can't stand in front of people and say, 'We want
your vote,' and not tell people what it is they're
voting for," said Massa, a former Navy officer. ''We
all know that staying the course is not a strategy
that's going to work."
Rick Klein can be reached at rklein@...