Democrats' So-Called Leaders are Not Leading on Iraq

In looking over the Democratic candidates for president, some say there are no differences in our policy toward the Iraq war. I disagree.

In the Hanover debate on September 26th, moderator Tim Russert asked, "Will you pledge that by January 2013, the end of your first term, more than five years from now, there will be no U.S. troops in Iraq?" For a party that is supposedly united in wanting to end this war, the answers were hardly reassuring.

Barack Obama: "I think it's hard to project four years from now."

Hillary Clinton: "It is very difficult to know what we are going to be inheriting."

John Edwards: "I cannot make that commitment."

My response: "I will get that done...Yes, I will, sir."

I respect and believe that my opponents want to end the war. I know we all do - it's making us less safe and more vulnerable. But as we have seen these last nine months, getting that result won't just happen on its own.

Senator Clinton says if the president hasn't withdrawn our troops by 2009, she would begin doing that when she takes office.

That's all fine and good, but who knows how many more troops will have died by then. Who knows how much worse America's name will be in the world.

As Democrats in the Congress and candidates for the presidency, we have an opportunity to lead now -- not in 2013. Not when (or if) Democrats take the White House in 2009. Now.

By now, no one is holding their breaths for President Bush to change course on Iraq. With not a single result to point to in Iraq in the last four years, he wants somewhere between 100,000 and 130,000 troops in Iraq through next year.

What's clear is that by saying we might still be there in 2013, we only strengthen George Bush's hand. Saying you want to end the war while taking actions that prolong it do a tremendous disservice to the efforts of those who are doing everything they can to bring the war to a close.

Being in Iraq for another six years is simply unacceptable -- and it should be to anyone who believes this war is making us less safe. We all know the result we want -- getting out of Iraq -- but too many of my opponents seem content to follow rather than lead when it comes to the only way we can get it: by terminating the funding.

I know it isn't easy. But timetables and harshly worded statements won't end this war -- standing up to the president and using our Constitutional power of the purse will.

It's not as if this situation is unprecedented, with Congress facing an intransigent president who presses an unpopular, failed foreign policy. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan was insistent on funding the Contra forces in Nicaragua. Some said we couldn't stop him, even as it had become clear the Contras were making the country more violent and less stable. I saw things differently. Leading the opposition, I knew that if we stood up and stood our ground that we could change that policy -- not wait until the next president came along, but force a change in the policy. And we did, paving the way to free and fair elections that have since stabilized that country.

No one is guaranteeing Iraq will become some kind of paradise after we leave. There may well be genocide we have to deal with on an international basis sooner or later. But just as before, we can get the results we want if we bring people together and challenge the president. To date, this Democratic Congress hasn't; neither have the so-called "leading" candidates running for president. Because saying we could well be in Iraq by 2013 isn't leading at all. It's following this president and down a rabbit hole we may never dig ourselves out of.

This op-ed is also appearing in the Manchester Union-Leader today.

You can learn more about my campaign and my work to end the war in Iraq at