A Duty to Mislead: Politics and the Iraq War

Democrats are telling voters that if they are elected, all U.S. troops will be pulled out of Iraq. But as Sen. Hillary Clinton privately told a senor military adviser, she knows there will be some troops there for decades. It's an example of how in some cases, politics can force dishonesty.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The fate of Iraq and U.S. troops there is a centerpiece of the Democratic presidential campaign.

But listen very closely, suggests NPR senior news analyst Ted Koppel.

TED KOPPEL: At the most recent Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton was presented with an open-ended question by moderator Wolf Blitzer. What, she was asked, would be her top priority during the first 100 days if she was elected president? Well, she said, if President Bush has not ended the war in Iraq, to bring our troops home. That would be the very first thing I would do.

She won resounding applause. And therein lies a lesson. It takes a cynical former diplomatic correspondent to take note of the fact that Senator Clinton said only that she would bring our troops home. She did not say, all our troops.

Would the audience have been quite as enthusiastic if it had known that this is not what she means at all? Go back over the record and you will never find Senator Clinton being so incautious as to promise that she will withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq.

Indeed, less than three months ago, in an interview with the New York Times, Senator Clinton emphasized that there are remaining vital national security interests in Iraq and that these would require a continuing deployment of the American troops. She didn't, in that interview, give any sense of how long U.S. forces might remain in Iraq during a new Clinton administration.

But I ran into an old source the other day who held a senior position at the Pentagon until his retirement. He occasionally briefs Senator Clinton on the situation in the Gulf. She told him that if she were elected president and then reelected four years later, she would still expect U.S. troops to be in Iraq at the end of her second term.

We're talking about just a shade less than 10 years from now. I happen to think she's absolutely right, and what's more I'm sure there are several other Democratic presidential candidates who agree with that assessment - that U.S. troops will be in Iraq for another decade at least. Even if every candidate is sounding as though the pullout would be immediate and total.

When oh when is that deadly serious issue ever going to become the topic of an equally serious and candid discussion? When, in other words, will we get the brutal truth in place of vapid and misleading campaign applause lines?

This is Ted Koppel.

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