Surprise, surprise, a bold Democrat finally has told the truth about Iraq, a truth that goes like this: However chaotic it gets, we can't just pack our bags and come home. Even if a Democrat is president, we've got serious business there and "so I think that we will have troops" in Iraq.
Here's the second surprise: The truth-teller was Sen. Hillary Clinton.
It was the good Hillary, the adult who lived in the White House, is a serious student of foreign policy and knows we must project strength to friends and foes. The good Hillary wants to be president, but refuses to pander to a public disgusted with the war. We need to see more of her.
Lately, we've been seeing too much of the bad Hillary. Swept up in the fever of the campaign, that Hillary has been a little puppy, obediently following the irresponsible lefty lurch of rivals Barack Obama and John Edwards. In a game of "can you top this," bad Hillary even promised last month that "if we in Congress don't end this war before January 2009, as president, I will."
Fortunately, good Hillary was back last week and talked like a confident, responsible leader of the world's only superpower.
Making the case that America has vital interests in Iraq - from hunting al-Qaida to blocking Iran - good Hillary struck the right balance in an interview with The New York Times. She painted a realistic scenario and response, one that repurposes our mission away from policing a civil war to using the military and diplomacy to make sure Iraq doesn't descend into a terror haven and ignite a regional conflict. In broad outline, that is the policy the next president will have to follow.
To make her points, Clinton sometimes sounded like President Bush. "It really does matter whether you have a failed province or a region that serves as a petri dish for insurgents and al-Qaida," she said. "It is right in the heart of the oil region. It is directly in opposition to our interests, to the interests of regimes, to Israel's interests. So I think we have a remaining military as well as political mission, trying to contain the extremists."
Wait, there's more good sense: "I think we have a vital national security interest and obligation to try to help the Kurds manage their various problems in the north so that one of our allies, Turkey, is not inflamed, and they are able to continue with their autonomy. I think we have a vital national security interest - if the Iraqis ever get their act together - to continue to provide logistical support, air support, training support. ... And I think we have a continuing vital national security interest in trying to prevent Iran from crossing the border and having too much influence inside of Iraq."
She was careful to say she would rely on military commanders for honest advice. But she was definite that, while many combat troops would leave, an unspecified number would stay.
"It would be far fewer troops," she said. "We would not be doing patrols. We would not be kicking in doors. We would not be trying to insert ourselves in the middle between the various Shiite and Sunni factions. I do not think that is a smart or achievable mission for American forces. So I think that we will have troops."
Good ideas, good sense, good Hillary.