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.