Issues2004: Iraq

Issues2004: Iraq

: My stand on Iraq: Out of moral obligation and enlightened self-interest, we must stay and assure that the nation gains security and democracy. Easier said than done, sure. But first we need to say it.

No matter what your view of the Iraq war, this remains true: If we leave Iraq too soon, we are screwing the Iraqi people again and we are setting the perfect conditions for more terrorism and instability in the region, then the world, including our homefront.

My view of the Iraq war was: I supported the war but did not agree with Bush’s rationale. WMD were speculative, a gamble, a ploy for international support that was doomed to failure. It set him up for the fall that came. My support was humanitarian and practical; it was, I’ve argued, a liberal stand: We knew that Saddam was a tyrant torturing his people and depriving them of basic rights. We should have gotten rid of him the first time around. I’m also a Tom Friedman hawk here; I believe we need to establish a foothold for democracy in the Islamic Middle East and Iraq was as good a place as any. And byi this logic, I’ll acknowledge, it doesn’t necessarily stop at Iraq: There are other tyrants; there are other places there that deserve democracy (try: everywhere).

But I also believe that we have mucked up the aftermath to war horribly for the Iraqis and for our forces. We have done worse than squander an opportunity. We are creating a problem for the future. We didn’t plan. We didn’t execute the plan we didn’t make. We are now foisting this unfairly onto Iraqi shoulders. If we don’t act quickly to shore up security, all will be lost.

But I also refuse to call the people killing for the sake of killing in Iraq today “insurgents’ or even “revolutionaries.” They are terrorists, murderers, thugs. Where is their great principle of revolution? It doesn’t exist. They are only about defeat for the other side, about terror for terror’s sake.

The cause of bringing democracy and freedom to Iraq — as an example for the Middle East — remains a good and hopeful one. ‘

And so I want to see a candidate give me a strong and clear plan for bringing security to Iraq and for supporting open and peaceful elections. Then I want to see a plan for ongoing security. And then I want to see a plan for other American relationships with Iraq that will build a stronger connection, especially business connections to create jobs and prosperity. That will defeat Islamic extremism better than anything.

(This is one of a series of posts on Issues2004. I’ll repeat that I’m no expert on this; I’m posting my wishlist in various issues in the hopes of sparking unmuddy debate.)

: Want to read more from the candidates? Good luck. Oddly — frighteningly — I can’t find an Iraq page per se on the Kerry site. We’re in a friggin’ war there and there isn’t a page about what to do about it on his site. Ditto Bush. He’s the President who put his there. Correct me if I’m wrong; find it if you can. Unlike other issues, there isn’t a clear page; to put it in our dorky terms, this should be part of the user interface for the campaigns. But I find no clear statement on an issue that matters to most Americans.

This is what media and we should be pressing the candidates about, not past-tense mud.

: UPDATE: Well, this doesn’t make me feel better. Novak’s column today:

Inside the Bush administration policymaking apparatus, there is strong feeling that U.S. troops must leave Iraq next year. This determination is not predicated on success in implanting Iraqi democracy and internal stability. Rather, the officials are saying: Ready or not, here we go….

Whether Bush or Kerry is elected, the president or president-elect will have to sit down immediately with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The military will tell the election winner there are insufficient U.S. forces in Iraq to wage effective war. That leaves three realistic options: Increase overall U.S. military strength to reinforce Iraq, stay with the present strength to continue the war, or get out.

Well-placed sources in the administration are confident Bush’s decision will be to get out. They believe that is the recommendation of his national security team and would be the recommendation of second-term officials. An informed guess might have Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, Paul Wolfowitz as defense secretary and Stephen Hadley as national security adviser. According to my sources, all would opt for a withdrawal.

Getting out now would not end expensive U.S. reconstruction of Iraq, and certainly would not stop the fighting. Without U.S. troops, the civil war cited as the worst-case outcome by the recently leaked National Intelligence Estimate would be a reality. It would then take a resolute president to stand aside while Iraqis battle it out.

The end product would be an imperfect Iraq, probably dominated by Shia Muslims seeking revenge over long oppression by the Sunni-controlled Baathist Party….

So much for strategy.

: UPDATE: Kerry gave a speech with is four-point plan for Iraq. I’m not impressed.

First, he said, he would work towards more international support. Mr. Kerry noted that the president is scheduled to visit New York on Tuesday to speak to the United Nations about Iraq.

“The president should convene a summit meeting of the world’s major powers and Iraq’s neighbors, this week, in New York, where many leaders will attend the U.N. General Assembly,” Mr. Kerry said….

Secondly, Mr. Kerry said, he would work harder to train Iraqi security forces.

He pointed out that in February Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said that more than 210,000 Iraqis were in uniform. But Mr. Kerry asserted that in reality only 5,000 Iraqi soldiers had been trained “by the administration’s own minimal standards.”…

Third, he said he would devise a better plan for the reconstruction of a devastated Iraq.

“Last week, the administration admitted that its plan was a failure when it asked Congress for permission to radically revise spending priorities in Iraq.” Mr. Kerry said. ” It took 17 months for them to understand that security is a priority, 17 months to figure out that boosting oil production is critical, 17 months to conclude that an Iraqi with a job is less likely to shoot at our soldiers.”

And lastly, he said he would make sure elections would take place in the country.

“Because Iraqis have no experience holding free and fair elections, the president agreed six months ago that the U.N. must play a central role,” Mr. Kerry said. “Yet today, just four months before Iraqis are supposed to go to the polls, the U.N. secretary general and administration officials themselves say the elections are in grave doubt.”