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March 18, 2008

A Responsible Plan for Iraq that Wonks Didn’t Write
Posted by Moira Whelan

National Security Wonks, take note: progressives have a plan for ending the war in Iraq, and they’re stealing your thunder.

Yesterday at Take Back America, ten progressive challengers for Congress announced a plan to bring an end to the war in Iraq.

Usually, the idea of candidates announcing plans such as these draw little attention among national security experts. This is because most wonks look through the plans and can identify which wonk the challengers depended upon to draft the plan, or wonks will dismiss the plans outright, based on the notion that obviously people running for Congress could not know the things they know about foreign policy and national security …and therefore it must be pretty weak, targeted only at getting elected and not really…SERIOUS.

Not so with this plan.  Wonks are missing something huge if they don't read this, because while you ignore it, American voters are embracing it as the future of their government.

Folks at NSN have become pretty familiar with this plan in the last few weeks. When we got a call asking us to meet with Darcy Burner, who drafted a plan, we thought of it as nothing new…after all, lots of candidates want to find the silver bullet to change things in Iraq, and often don’t have a feel for all of the moving pieces in Iraq and around the globe. Sometimes, candidates are more concerned with developing the plan that won’t get them in trouble, rather than the one that embodies their approach and forces real change. We were pleasantly surprised by Darcy.

Darcy laid in front of us 20 pages of a comprehensive approach to Iraq—a project that started after a conversation with General Paul Eaton. She’d done her research, and based her ideas on legislation already introduced in Congress. She went beyond the idea of troop deployments, and political stability to address more systemic problems with the US government that got us into this mess in the first place. The Responsible Plan for Ending the War in Iraq looks at things like media accountability, government transparency, torture, FISA and trade-offs on issues such as Afghanistan. She wrote the whole thing herself, and sought advice from “experts” as well as her fellow challengers. In other words...her plan is peer reviewed…and approved.

Two things make the plan especially compelling, and demonstrate a changing dynamic in elections that we’re surely going to see this cycle.

First, the people who drafted it—the 10 candidates who’ve attached their names to it so far—understand Iraq in very real ways. Burner’s brother served in Iraq. Donna Edwards is a military brat. Tom Periello worked in Iraq and Afghanistan doing development work. The list goes on and on. In other words, the idea that progressives “don’t get it” is completely blown out of the water based on those who are introducing it. Not only do they get it, they’ve embraced it and are now running for Congress to change the realities they see—that’s public service of which you can be proud. They’re actually walking the walk.

Second, voters and candidates care about Iraq and the rest of the world—in a detailed way. Contrary to what some political advisors are saying, these candidates started this strategy because “what are you going to do about Iraq?” is the top question they’re getting from their voters. It’s no longer sufficient for candidates to say they believe in ending the war, voters want to know how they’re going to do that. Voters are insisting on details because they know the details. In other words, our candidates and our voters are smarter on Iraq and the world we live in than we’ve seen in recent elections.

So this is a message to wonks: you hear often that a candidate introduced “a plan” and you roll your eyes (come on, I know you do). You hear it’s from a progressive, and part of you worries that it might be too “angry” and not positive. Regardless, you know it’s not wonky enough to meet your standards…right? Well, in this case, you'd be wrong on all counts (and wonks hate to be wrong...right?)

A few months from now, people will look back on this crew with a “where it all started” approach. We’ll be counting this class as a new generation of leaders who are smarter and stronger on security than ever before. More will adopt their plan as a blueprint, and they’ll walk into the halls of Congress with a mission, with allies, and with knowledge.

The shock to the wonks? It’s coming out of the progressive community. But don’t worry, you’re needed here too. On the website, there’s a place you can offer your endorsement. You can offer your thoughts on the plan and you can get involved.

This is a true opportunity for wonks. The ideas presented in the plan are ones you’re familiar with. This time, they’re coming from the types of leaders you wish we had more of in this country. This is a chance for the wonks to give populism a chance, and to embrace the reality that people really do care about what we do. They’ve read your op-eds and gone to your lectures and they’re putting it into practice. Now, you need to help them make it a reality.

How do you do that? Do what you do best: talk to anyone who will listen, but whatever you do, don't do nothing.


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I'm interested to hear your take on what the likely consequences will be if the following elements of the plan are implemented: (1) removing all U.S. troops from Iraq beyond the minimum needed for standard embassy-protection; (2) expanding the number of U.S. non-military personnel working on "transformation" at the grass-roots level in Iraq; (3) attempting to hold Iraqi perpetrators of war crimes responsible for their crimes; and (4) prioritizing the protection of women's and minority rights in Iraq.

Do you believe that the "insurgents" and militias will simply give up fighting, bombing civilians, and asserting their perceived interests which may be opposed to (2)-(4) above, once the U.S. troops withdraw? If so, have you considered the consequences that will ensue if this belief proves incorrect?

Politically, this fills the need for Democratic candidates to have a platform for Iraq-related issues. As most Democratic challengers in open seats or those now held by Republicans will not have a background themselves in national security affairs, this need is a pressing one.

The platform itself contains a number of ideas that propose shutting the barn door long after the horse has left, and is built on the entirely mistaken idea that after American troops are withdrawn the American people will still care greatly what happens in Iraq.

It is also notable for one omission glaring in a document prepared for Congressional candidates -- it contains nothing that addresses the deficiencies in Congressional oversight, and the concentration of Congressional power in the leadership and Appropriations Committees, that have hobbled the traditional check on runaway executive power for the last seven years. The reasons Democratic candidates for Congress might not want to offend the House leadership that is so helpful to their fundraising are obvious; since the importance of this omission will be lost on "wonks," I thought I'd point out that a list of policy mistakes as long as the one in this plan would be a lot harder to assemble in any administration that Congress was actively supervising.

Having said that, the document is both credible and -- importantly to some Democratic candidates at this moment -- not a product of either of the contending Democratic Presidential campaigns (though both have proposed measures similar to some that appear here). Some of them should find it useful.

I appreciate the effort and think it is a positive start, but I think Democrats need much more than this to be credible on this issue. In a 36-page document only 2 pages (13 & 14) are devoted to policy choices in Iraq. Democrats and not just "wonks" need to come together and develop something serious and credible beyond assertions of goals and desired endstates. Perhaps NSN can lead this effort. Why not do an ISG-type report complete with analysis and real planning guidance for a new administration?

The people who profess that they are so concerned about women's rights, minority rights and potential conflict in Iraq are simply jingoistic warmongers who are perfectly happy to see others die for their professed concerns while they themselves are content to do absolutely nothing about the current humanitarian crisis in Iraq brought on by illegal US military aggression. Their "concern" for Iraqis is thereby demonstrably false.

The problems in Iraq are a result of the brutal US military occupation and can only be solved by withdrawal of US forces. Specifically, women's rights have already been lost due to US actions in Iraq.

On January 8th SecDef Gates said: "Over the past year, Iraqi security forces have grown in capability, confidence and size, expanding by more than a hundred thousand. Iraqis have assumed security responsibility for nine of 18 provinces, and we expect this transfer to continue."

It's time to go. Those that are truly concerned about Iraqis should get their butts over there and join the aid personnel who are actually contributing, and not just sit home tapping on their keyboards.

Terrific piece! You phrase very well the reasons why this plan is not just a gimmick. Congress has a bunch of bills that just aren't getting to the floor for a vote, and collectively they form a framework within which the plan become more than just words on paper, but actions that we can take right now.

Darcy Burner and those who have worked with her to create this plan are to be commended for their leadership and rewarded by being elected to ensure the plan happens.

Ending our war in Iraq is easy. We just get out. I'm suspicious of any claim that it takes an elaborate plan. It's likely to be a bunch of excuses for drawing the business out.

On page 6 is a call for removing all U.S. troops from Iraq. That's an improvement on plans, like those of the Democratic presidential candidates, that call for a 'residual force'.

But on page 11 is a suggestion that the U.S. 'consider' any request from the Iraqi government for 'a temporary base or bases'. This opens the door to keeping American troops in Iraq for as long as its nominal government lacks sufficient internal support to protect its existence, which could be quite a long time.

On page 7 is a nice bit of idiocy: 'Finally, we are clearly tied to Iraq through our dependence on oil . . .'

Since 1990 U.S. policy has inhibited Iraq's oil exports. Invasion and occupation have reduced those exports below the levels previously exempted from blockade.

For those who missed it, the rising cost of fuel is yet another sign of a Bush Cheney Mission Accomplished. What mission was that you ask? Why the mission was to create record profits for Bush's old oil buddies and Cheny's old corporate buddies. Why do they think the Bush administration went all the way to the supreme court and invoked executive privilege to keep Cheney's secret deals a secret? So when someone tells you Bush's legacy is just torture and lying about it you tell them: hogwash. For the first time in history an American president has started a war for the sole purpose of raising corporate and oil profits and it worked! There's your legacy! In my humble opinion.

The most important piece of this document is the section that deals with talking to Iraq's neioghbors including Iran. They then could try to presure both the Sunnis and the Shias to implement a workable political solution. This then would prevent the bloodshed and civil war that the mainstream media and the neoconservatives keep warning about if we withdraw from Iraq.

Last night I attended a benefit concert at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn to protest the war in Iraq. Lou Reed, David Byrne, Moby, Norah Jones, Damien Rice, Scissor Sisters, and Antony took turns singing and Richard Belzer and Naomi Klein spoke in between sets. More than 1,000 people packed the riverfront arts venue to raise $15,000 for two nonprofits, United For Peace and Justice, a national coalition of more than 1,400 grassroots groups working to end the war, and Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' photographs of maimed U.S. soldiers and civilians lined the exposed brick walls of St. Ann's vast foyer and there were several IVAF whooping it up at the concert.

I'm writing this here to draw your attention to Laurie Anderson's song, Only an Expert - one of many highlights of the night. -

"Now only an expert can deal with the problem
Because half the problem is seeing the problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem"

so many experts...

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