Last month, I wrote a piece for the Daily Standard criticizing the strategy proposed by leading Democrats to withdraw from Iraq pursuant to a fixed timetable, and arguing that their approach is politically motivated. In the article, I noted in passing that one of the proponents of this strategy, Lawrence Korb, criticized the same idea in June 2005, but had changed his position now that liberal Democrats are pushing it. Korb works for a think tank run by leading Democratic operative John Podesta.
Korb has responded to my column with a letter to the Standard. His main quarrel is that I ignored his explanation as to why he changed his position on leaving Iraq. Korb claims that his change of heart was due to the fact that the Iraqis now have approved a consitituion and held a general election. He adds that I “knew” this was his reason because he said so during a debate we had on the Voice of America.
Korb did indeed offer this explanation during our debate. However, it doesn’t withstand scrutiny. When Korb stated in June 2005 that it would be a “mistake” to leave Iraq pursuant to a timetable, it was common knowledge that, if things went according to schedule, Iraqis would approve a constitution and hold a general election by the end of the year. Korb even noted that elections were “upcoming.” But Korb did not say in June that it would be a mistake to set a timetable to leave Iraq unless Iraqis approve a constitution and hold elections — he stated categorically that “an arbitrary deadline would be a mistake.”
Moreover, Korb has not explained why the approval of a constitution and the holding of another election convert an arbitrary withdrawal deadline from “a mistake” into sound policy. Nor does he argue in favor of withdrawing pursuant to a timetable on the theory that things have gotten better politically, thus diminishing the need for our presence. In fact, on November 9, 2005 when Korb “outlined where [he] was coming from” in advocating withdrawal, he made no mention of the approval of the constitution or of elections. Instead, his argument was that the presence of our troops is part of the problem; that when we kill insurgents “we create six more;” that we need the troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere; and that a deadline will provide an incentive for the Iraqis to get their act together. This was as true (or as false) in June as it was in November.
In sum, Korb’s stated explanation for his flip-flop makes no sense and is not reflected in key prior statements he has made. His justification almost surely is a pretext concocted to explain his about-face when someone calls him on it. Korb likely is not arguing in good faith when he cites this fig-leaf of a rationale, and his lack of candor suggests that he may not be arguing in good faith on the merits either.
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