On Wednesday during NBC's Today, Sen. Barack Obama said:
I think all of us are talking about a phased redeployment which would leave American troops in the region to send a strong message not only to the Iraqi government that we want to help them, but also to neighbors like Iran that we're not abandoning the field.
Also this week, John Edwards said in a speech:
Iran must know that the world won't back down. The recent UN resolution ordering Iran to halt the enrichment of uranium was not enough. We need meaningful political and economic sanctions. We have muddled along for far too long. To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep ALL options on the table, Let me reiterate - ALL options must remain on the table.
Finally, Rep. Dennis Kucinich remarked after the State of the Union:
He's clearly laying the groundwork for an attack against Iran, and I think that ought to be a grave concern to all members of Congress.
A bright red line for LiberalOasis in sizing up the candidates is foreign policy vision.
Are the presidential candidates going to continue the neocon project of a permanent military presence in the Middle East, in order to exert illegitimate influence that would only breed resentment and spread the jihadist movement?
Or will they fundamentally change course, and articlate different objectives in the region?
(Ideally, credible democracy and eradicating poverty, only using our military for counterrerrorism, not geopolitical goals.)
We don't have to worry about Kucinich going neocon on us.
But did Obama and Edwards cross that line with their statements?
Obama's call for keeping troops in the region as a check on Iran comes particularly close, but he also has called for renewing diplomacy with Iran, so LiberalOasis won't jump to conclusions.
More importantly, the statements of both fail to reframe discussion around a wholly different vision.
If the discussion isn't fundamentally reframed, they might find themselves trapped by events -- either during the campaign or even once one occupies the Oval Office.
Obama seems to understand the need to do this. In the same interview, he said:
we've got to recraft our foreign policy to deal with our national security, to deal with terrorism, but also to help to stitch back together a sense around the world that America is leading with its values and its ideals.
That's on the mark.
But talk of leaving troops in other countries as part of a geopolitical chess game isn't recrafting.
Neither is echoing the neocons' crude portrayal of Iran, which actually has a factionalized government.
It is certainly important to talk of strategies to keep Iran from going nuclear.
But to do so in saber-rattling fashion maintains the neocon frame, facilitating the neocon strategy to lay the groundwork for an eventual attack.
Instead, candidates should not simply mention diplomacy, but explain how they can get diplomacy to work.
For example: dismantling permanent bases in Iraq to make clear regime change is not our objective, setting the stage for productive talks. And, reaching out to President Ahmadinejad's opponents, who are on the rise in Iran.
(Sanctions, like Edwards proposed, can certainly be part of that message. But it must be clear there's a carrot to go along with that stick -- otherwise, sanctions amount to an empty gesture as part of a build-up to war.)
From there (as argued in Wait! Don't Move To Canada!), candidates can explain how such a strategy help promote democracy.
When authoritarian regimes get nukes, they hold a trump card making it far harder to press for democratic reforms.
Preventing proliferation through war, however, further destabilizes the region -- as we are seeing in Iraq -- creating more problems than it solves.
Whereas preventing proliferation through diplomacy fosters stability and creates opportunities to push democratization.
As also discussed in Wait!, a great political opportunity presents itself once a conservative president is perceived as a national security failure.
The perception that a conservative approach keeps us safe and secure is questioned, giving us the chance to reshape perceptions and build a mandate for a change in course.
We are in such a moment right now. To miss that opportunity, and maintain conservative foreign policy frames, would be a huge mistake.
The more candidates that understand that, the better.