WASHINGTON — Last week at this time there was no genuine get-out-of-Iraq-now candidate in the nascent 2008 Democratic presidential field.
Now there is one: Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.
Kucinich has called for his Democratic colleagues to vote against any further money to pay for the war.
“It is not credible to say you’re opposed to the war and keep funding it,” Kucinich said when he launched his presidential bid on Tuesday.
“If the Democrats — going into the November election — had told the people, ‘Look, we’re going to vote to continue to fund the war,’ I doubt very seriously we would have gained control of the House and the Senate,” Kucinich told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on Hardball on Wednesday.
When he ran as the anti-Iraq war contender in 2004, Kucinich won only 3.8 percent of the Democratic primary votes.
And he was able to raise $13 million, which might seem like a lot, but not when compared to the $52.6 million raised by Howard Dean.
With Sen. Russ Feingold, D- Wisc., having opted out of the 2008 fray, there appears to be an opening in the Democratic presidential field for a get-out-of-Iraq-now contender other than Kucinich, some Democratic leaders said.
Waiting for another anti-war candidate
“A lot of people are sitting on the fence until someone comes up with something a lot more definitive than what’s being said right now about the war,” said Maryland Democratic Party chairman Terry Lierman, who was the finance chairman of Howard Dean’s presidential bid in 2004.
“The person who wins this (battle for the nomination) is going to be the person who comes up with the strongest and most rational proposal to get out of Iraq,” Lierman added. “Those who have namby-pamby proposals will suffer the consequences.”
Will Kucinich be a useful foil for the other Democratic contenders allowing them to distance themselves from him as being somehow “on the fringe” of thinking on Iraq?
“That would have been true a year ago,” Lierman said. “But now the boiling point of the American people on Iraq is at a point where many Americans might agree with him.”
If Democrats are looking for a contender who did not vote to go to war in 2002 and has not voted to fund the war, two names immediately come to mind: Dean and former vice president Al Gore.
An aide to one of the likely 2008 Democratic hopefuls said “the Democratic contenders will all be coalescing around the position of ‘withdraw from Iraq, but withdraw responsibly.’”
Therefore, he said, Iraq will not be a dividing line between them.
'People want specific deeds'
But Lierman dissented from this view. “Rhetoric is not going to work; people want specific deeds and action,” he said.
And that action might include Kucinich’s idea of cutting off funds to force Bush to bring the troops home.
“I think there is such a vacuum of ideas and specific positions on the war” that a funding cut-off “stands out as a definite possibility,” Lierman said.
Last weekend, as Sen. Barack Obama, D- Ill., was making his debut before Democrats in New Hampshire, site of the first presidential primary, one advisor claimed the mantle of anti-Iraq war candidate for his boss.
Asked why there wasn’t yet an anti-war candidate in the Democratic field, the Obama aide, speaking on condition that he not be identified by name, said, “The closest one would be Obama because he was opposed to the Iraq war when Congress voted in 2002” to authorize Bush to use military force to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime.
“The so-called ‘guy without foreign policy experience’ got that vote right, while others — if they had it to do over again — would do it differently,” argued Obama’s advisor, in a slap at other potential Democratic contenders such as Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who voted on Oct. 11, 2002 to give President Bush the authority to attack Iraq.
All of the Democratic senators who show signs of running for their party’s presidential nomination voted for the 2002 war resolution. Obama wasn’t a member of the U.S. Senate in 2002 (he was serving in the Illinois state Senate at the time).
Obama's views on exit from Iraq
In the policy speech on Iraq that Obama delivered on Nov. 20, he put a number of qualifiers on withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
He called for withdrawal “on a timetable that would begin in four to six months” but he specified no date by which the withdrawal would be completed.
He said the withdrawal could be “temporarily suspended” if the parties in Iraq reach an accord “that stabilizes the situation” and if “they offer us a clear and compelling rationale for maintaining certain troop levels.”
“Moreover, it could be suspended if at any point U.S. commanders believe that a further reduction would put American troops in danger,” Obama said.
He also said the president could “redeploy additional troops to Northern Iraq and elsewhere in the in the region as an over-the-horizon force.”
Voting against withdrawal
Obama voted against the Feingold-Kerry resolution last June which would have told President Bush to withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq by July 1, 2007.
Instead Obama supported the weaker Levin resolution (co-sponsored by Clinton) which expressed the “sense of Congress” that Bush ought to “begin the phased redeployment,” meaning withdrawal, of forces from Iraq by the end of 2006.
The Senate rejected both resolutions.
Obama, as well as other potential Democratic presidential contenders who serve in the Senate, continue to vote to pay for the war.
And as Kucinich said this week, they’ll have another chance a few months from now to either keep funding the war or cut off funding when the president asks Congress to OK a “supplemental” military spending bill for Iraq expected to amount to more than $130 billion.
Could it be that no get-out-of-Iraq-now candidate has yet appeared, other than Kucinich, because many rank-and-file Democrats don’t want one?
New Hampshire Democratic activist Mary Rauh, who backed Gen. Wesley Clark for the 2004 nomination, said Sunday at Obama's book-signing event in Portsmouth, N.H., “We’ve got to be willing to spend the money to prevent total chaos. ‘Get out tomorrow’ is very unrealistic.”
An obligation to not leave chaos
Rauh criticized one Democratic contender, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who on a recent visit in New Hampshire, according to Rauh, “basically said, ‘It’s the Iraqis' problem in Iraq. They’ve got to fix it.’ I was appalled by that. We invaded the country; we have an obligation to try not to leave total chaos in that part of the world, and it’s also very dangerous of us to do so.”
For a candidate to urge for immediate withdrawal “is a pretty tough order, given what’s going on right now, the investment the United States has made, and the chaos that would ensue upon an immediate pullout,” said George Bruno, one of the early supporters of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign in New Hampshire, and a Clark backer in 2004.
“I don’t see that happening,” Bruno added. “I think Democrats want to be responsible.”
So while there’s room in the field for a get-out-of-Iraq-now candidate, it’s not clear that he would get majority support in the Democratic primaries.
But the anti-war candidate may not need majority support.
In 2004, Sen. John Kerry, who then opposed immediate withdrawal, won the New Hampshire primary with only 38 percent of the vote. After that, none of his rivals was able to stop him from getting the nomination.