Editorial: Menendez's Iraq stance untenable and unwise

Menendez's Iraq stance untenable and unwise
Editorial: Home News Tribune Online 09/7/06

Ambition makes politicians say the most foolish things. Take, for instance, the call by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez for the accelerated removal of American troops from Iraq within the next 12 months. The statement and the stance are worrisome examples of how politically motivated agenda-setting can warp a candidate's public policies and views.

Menendez, a Democrat, is locked in a nip-and-tuck battle to defend his U.S. Senate seat against Republican challenger Thomas H. Kean Jr., a state senator and critic of the war himself.

Menendez clearly wants to be seen as the more "anti-war" of the two, so that he can differentiate himself from Kean in a state where most voters now say they are unhappy with the progress of the war.

He'd better be careful, though. Lack of enthusiasm for the way in which the war has been managed doesn't necessarily translate into public support for an abrupt exit before the job is finished.

Toward that point, Menendez' demand for so quick and arbitrary a withdrawal is out of sync with any measured or practical strategy to bring about a successful end to the hostilities, let alone a successful end to U.S. involvement. More than that, so extreme are his words, one has to wonder if Menendez even believes them himself. It's a good bet that he doesn't, but he is willing to lay aside his own sound judgment to pander to the most virulent critics of the war, a big part of his core constituency.

But the tactic may backfire with voters at large.

Most straight-thinking individuals — no matter what they think about the course of the war, or what they believe about its genesis — understand that a rapid pullout by the U.S. military at this juncture would further destabilize Iraq and, by extension, further embolden militant factions.

Menendez claims that the Iraqis will be able to secure their own country within the coming year. How does he know? Not even the best experts can agree on that score. What is clear is that the Iraqi security forces are not battle-ready yet. Until there is some inkling that day is at hand or is fast approaching, all talk of walking away is premature — and, frankly, unwise.

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