Thursday, March 08, 2007

What The Democrats Should Do

It is time for the Congressional Democrats to do what the American people sent them to Washington to do, namely, end the war in Iraq. This is easier said than done, since it requires some level of agreement among those with various positions, as the staggering attempts to pass the simplest of measures shows. Yet they must do something, or else be condemned, and rightly so, for a lack of courage,
There are four factors which need to be taken into account when constructing an exit strategy for Iraq:

1. Humanitarian
2. Geopolitical
3. Economic
4. Domestic Political

Some of you may think the last two are unseemly, that #3 sounds a lot like “blood for oil” and #4 is flat out tawdry. But a result which causes the price of oil to zoom to $100 a barrel would cause untold damage to the world’s economy and make no mistake, the pain would not be shared equally, the poor and elderly would take the biggest hit. As for #4, I just think the future of this country and the world would be ill served if the result of Congressional action was a complete Republican takeover of the government. Now if you don’t think that would cause a great deal of distress to this country and the world, you can come to a different conclusion. I believe the Speaker of the House needs to take that into account and should.
The House Democrats have come up with a plan which will get us out no later than the end of August, 2008. In fact, within the Democratic Caucus, the battle is over whether to end it sooner, as in the end of December, 2007. They have a plan to set benchmarks for the Iraqis, begin redeployment, and ultimately achieve the complete withdrawal of troops and are attaching it to the financing for the war. There are a couple of problems here – first, it has little chance of getting through the Senate, and if it does, Bush will veto it and dare the Democrats to cut off funding. In addition, the nature of the bill means the Democrats will be taking control of the war from the President and the military. Frankly, Republicans should welcome this and make sure it passes – its a no-lose situation for them, since if it goes well, Iraq is off the table for the election and if it doesn’t, the Democrats will be blamed for the disaster.
The Senate also has a bill, but it’s a phased withdrawal and has all the weaknesses and none of the strengths of the intended House bill, as one would expect from the august body of wafflers.

Let’s look at the potential results taking into account the four elements I laid out at the beginning.
1 – Humanitarian – This is a potential humanitarian nightmare. It’s terrible now, but it could be much worse. Let me quote from the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq:

Coalition capabilities, including force levels, resources, and operations, remain an essential stabilizing element in Iraq.
If coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly during the term of this estimate (12-18 months), we judge that this almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq, intensify Sunni resistance to the Iraqi government, and have adverse consequences for national reconciliation.
If such a rapid withdrawal were to take place, we judge that the Iraqi Security Forces would be unlikely to survive as a nonsectarian national institution; neighboring countries — invited by Iraqi factions or unilaterally — might intervene openly in the conflict; massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement would be probable; Al-Qaeda in Iraq. would attempt to use parts of the country — particularly Al Anbar Province — to plan increased attacks in and outside of Iraq; and spiraling violence and political disarray in Iraq, along with Kurdish moves to control Kirkuk and strengthen autonomy, could prompt Turkey to launch a military incursion.”

It is not unreasonable for Americans to care more about the lives and health of our soldiers than of Iraqis and it’s indisputable that the sooner we get out the fewer our casualties will be. But are we really willing to concede the nightmare? This is Darfur and Sarajevo rolled into one, only bigger and with TV coverage. We can ignore the NIE timeline and warnings, but is that the wisest choice? We must give this the best chance possible for a positive, or at least less negative, outcome.

2 – Geopolitical – An abrupt withdrawal will serve to do nothing to help our influence in the region. It is true that the war itself has damaged it critically, yet we still have some influence. On the other hand, a date certain for withdrawal achieves the key element of focus for the players in the region. The knowledge of when we are leaving gives the Saudis, Iranians, Syrians, Turks, and their assorted clients inside Iraq a ticking clock, which, when it strikes midnight, would get bloody and not with our blood but with theirs. The good thing about hanging is that it concentrates the mind wonderfully. There must be enough time for them to deal with the potential outcomes. Once we have made the commitment to leave, we can aid negotiations simply because we will not be directly involved there in the future. Staying in without a date certain accomplishes none of these things, just lets everything drag on.

3- Economic – If the collapse scenario comes to pass, the entrance into the ethnic/religious war of Saudi Arabia and Iran could result in a massive increase in the price of oil, both due to supply disruption and the need to finance a war. If we choose to stay indefinitely, we fend that off, but at the cost of our own blood. If we leave too fast, the disruption in the world economy could be swift and extremely painful. We ignore this at great peril. We must build up our strategic oil reserve and have plans in place to ameliorate the worst effects of a run-up in prices. Time is our ally in those goals.

4- Domestic Political – These seem like cold calculations in the face of death and disfigurement, yet the Democrats would be remiss if they ignored them. As I said earlier, a quick withdrawal will be a no-lose situation for the Republicans, as the war will only be an issue if the result is a disaster. It is utterly foolish for the Democrats to risk that result – which, we must admit, is still the most likely one. Make no mistake, if Congress forces the President, by whatever means, to withdraw our troops next Spring or Summer, it ceases to be his war and becomes theirs. The Iraq War, misguided and mishandled, could end up referred to as yet another war the Congressional Democrats lost. I know, it’s sort of silly, but Conservatives have done their best to sell the Vietnam War in those terms and incredibly, it seems to be working.

The Resolution That Should Be

Be it resolved that all United States troops shall be removed from Iraq no later than December 1st, 2008. To that end, the House shall not pass any appropriations which could be used for military action in Iraq subsequent to 12/01/08. In the event U. S. troops remain in Iraq beyond that date, the House shall pass no further defense appropriations of any kind.
Until that time, the President is authorized, as Commander-In-Chief, to conduct the war in Iraq using whatever strategy and military tactics he sees fit, subject to international law and the Geneva Conventions. This resolution does not give the President the authorization for any military actions outside the recognized borders of Iraq.

There it is, simple and definitive. What are the advantages of this resolution? There are two keys here – responsibility and the timeline. Congress was not designed to run wars. The attempt to micromanage a war through compromise and political machinations is foolish. Let the President do his job. Even if he does it badly, it is his Constitutional responsibility and, as I have pointed out, a far superior political choice. By moving the date to 12/1/08, the Democrats would accomplish three goals. One, of course, is the very act of setting a date certain, which I believe is needed to force a political solution in the region. Second, the Democrats should not ignore the message of the NIE. The difference between us and Bush is that we do not ignore expert advice. If the NIE says a complete withdrawal within 12-18 months is fraught with peril, then it behooves us to move the end date outside that timeline. We can emphasize that we will not have an open-ended commitment, even should a new NIE change the timeline, we must have an end, Third, and this is pure politics, by moving it beyond the 2008 elections, it reinforces the need for a Democratic Congress to enforce the resolution and end the war.
There’s one more thing – this resolution needs 218 votes in the House and nothing else. The Senate doesn’t need to agree and Bush doesn’t have to sign it. Money bills come from the House and if they say they won’t pass one, that’s it. The time is over for passing bills which will never take effect, this will do the job.


Blogger samG said...

I think your resolution, and its rationale, is all very sound and well conceived. And yet, I do have a few thoughts or issues.

I'm not a fan of 'benchmarks'. They are somewhat akin to economic sanctions; it makes you feel like you're doing something but you're really doing nothing effective. I don't know how you would measure whether or not the benchmarks have been met and there is absolutely no way to have confidence that the benchmarks would last.

This 'support the troops' dialogue is silly. Once again, Republicans have framed the debate in a way that makes Democrats squirm. The best support you could offer to the troops is to bring them home and away from a civil war in which we have no enemy. Are we supporting the Shia govt which certainly warm up to Iran as soon as we leave? If we cut off funding by a date certain, the people's representative will have informed the executive branch that there are no more funds to continue this endeavor. If W chooses to leave troops in Iraq which are not funded, it is HE who has exposed them to danger, not the Democrats.

I don't accept the NIE prediction. As Tom Friedman wrote 4 years ago, we will know we have been successful in Iraq when we see Iraqi soldiers and police willing to risk their lives for their country. The fact is that Iraq is the creation of Western colonial powers which was carved out of an empire and with little or no consideration of the political or sociological dynamic of the population. As a result, you have 3 population centers, all of which have contemnpt for each other, have no desire to live with each other, and identify with their local religious/ethnic group rather than the country Iraq. Whenever U.S. troops leave, whether in 18 days or 18 months, I am convinced that the same ferocity of civil war will be unleashed and which will only be stopped when/if Iran, Syria, Turkey and Saudi Arabia intervene and craft a political solution.

Finally, waiting until 12/1/08 would result in another few hundred American lives lost and thousands of casualties which will be 'wasted' because the chances of success is so relatively small.

2:42 PM  
Blogger Barry Rubinowitz said...

I said nothing about benchmarks other than referring to the Dems current plan -- I feel they are meaningless.
Like you, I feel the best way to support the troops is to bring them home. But the key point I have made is that there are multiple things to take into account beyond the physical well-being of our soldiers, the majority of whom have volunteered to be there.
You don't accept the NIE prediction? That reasoning is as sound as Bush and Cheney not accepting the intelligence they didn't like. Frankly, I think that same prediction will exist in every report the NIE is likely to make of the situation, but basing policy on the best currently available evidence cannot be a bad policy for Democrats to get behind. If we ignore the NIE the resulting disaster can (and most assuredly will) be laid at our doorstep. You may not agree with it, but it will be the Democrats who pay the price for the slaughter on the nightly news.

10:00 PM  
Blogger samG said...

There is a huge difference between diasgreeing with the NIE estimate and cherry-picking and manipulating intelligence info. The former is a disagreement on what is being forecast as events to come. (Admitedly, my disagreement is based upon far less information than the NIE has at its disposal). The latter was an effort to massage the facts in order to arrive at a poiltically motivated and pre-determined assessment of reality.

12:56 PM  

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