Ending the war

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(HOST) Some leading Democrats are struggling to offer a specific alternative to the Bush administration’s Iraq policy. But as commentator Barrie Dunsmore tells us, if history is any lesson- that may not be necessary.

(DUNSMORE) Hillary Clinton, whose presidential aspirations are hardly in doubt, is being pilloried by the left wing of the Democratic Party for failing to take a firm position on a time-table for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. Senator Clinton has been critical of the president for his conduct and management of the war, but she is reluctant to be tied into any specific plan for ending it.

Recent history suggests that for the out-of-office party during
an on-going war, staying vague may be the right way to go. During the 1952 presidential campaign, the Democrats were in power, the Korean War was the major issue and the Republican nominee was Dwight Eisenhower.

Given General Eisenhower’s fame as the Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, one might have expected
he would have a plan to deal with an increasingly costly and unpopular war involving not just North Korea but China as well. Instead, only a few days before the election Eisenhower simply announced, “I shall go to Korea.”

According to his biographer Steven Ambrose, “The truth was he did not know what he was going to do about Korea. In the meantime his pledge was a dramatic and effective way to use his prestige and reputation to win votes while retaining flexibility.”

The pledge helped to get him elected and even before he took office Eisenhower did go to Korea. After reviewing the situation,
he ignored calls from both the South Korean president and the American commander to launch a new offensive – and instead decided to seriously seek an armistice.

In 1968, the Viet Nam war was raging under a Democratic administration and Republican candidate Richard Nixon had
a secret plan. As nearly as I have been able to determine, the candidate himself never actually used the phrase “secret plan.” But the idea emerged from an off-the-record discussion Nixon
had with a half a dozen Midwest news editors in the spring of ’68.

He told them that as president he would arrange a summit meeting with the Soviets to get their help in ending the war;
and that he would de-Americanize the conflict – suggesting
a phased U.S. troop withdrawal.

Nixon made similar suggestions in other “off the record” briefings for liberal and anti-war editors during the campaign. This led to wide-spread speculation that Nixon actually had a secret plan
to end the war – and that helped get him elected.

However, in his first news conference as president, when he was asked about his peace plan for Vietnam, Nixon merely offered a rehash of some proposals being discussed in the final days of
the Johnson administration. In short – there was no plan, secret
or otherwise.

As we look to the 2008 elections, there is no way of knowing how the war in Iraq is going to cut politically nearly three years hence. So it should come as no surprise if Democratic presidential wannabes – try to keep their options open.

This is Barrie Dunsmore.

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