Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Ending the War in Iraq—“A Contract to Restore America”

Darcy Burner, candidate for Congress in Washington state

If the force of arms is considered the only means of authority, it is not an auspicious instrument. —Lao Tsu, the Tao Te Ching, fifth century B.C.

The kind of pacifism that does not actively combat the war preparations of the governments is powerless and will always stay powerless. Would that the conscience and common sense of the people awaken! —Albert Einstein, speech in New York, December 14, 1930

“There is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq.”—General David Petraeus, Commanding General, Multi-National Force Iraq, March 2007

Five years after invading Iraq and fourteen months after electing Democratic majorities in the House and a standoff in the Senate with Democratic leadership, the war in Iraq continues. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group (the Baker-Hamilton Commission) presented a set of recommendations for a new direction in Iraq. President Bush rejected the majority of those recommendations and proceeded - largely unchecked by Congress - on a course explicitly contrary to them.

Over four thousand American soldiers have died and perhaps as many as a million Iraqi soldiers and civilians. New projections for the cost of the war are at three TRILLION dollars, 50-60 times higher than the Bush administration estimated. As I write, rockets continue to fall on the Green Zone in the city of Baghdad following a week of the fiercest fighting in months and the
failure of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s promise to crush the militias that have effectively ruled Basra for nearly three years.

The peace deal between al-Sadr and Iraqi government forces — said to have been brokered in Iran — calmed the violence but left the cleric’s Mahdi Army intact and Iraq’s U.S.-backed prime minister politically battered and humbled within his own Shiite power base.
Why are we still there?

Over the last three years, a clear majority of Americans have consistently opposed the war. In one of the most recent polls, taken March 15-18, 2008, before the chaos of the past couple of weeks, a CBS News Poll found that opposition reaffirmed:

Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the situation with Iraq?”
30% approve while 65% disapprove. (Among Republicans 65% approve and 30% disapprove. Among Democrats 6% approve and 91% disapprove. Among Independents 32% approve and 64% disapprove.)
"Looking back, do you think the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, or should the U.S. have stayed out?"

36% said the U.S. did the right thing, while 59% said the U.S. should have stayed out.

"From what you know about the U.S. involvement in Iraq, how much longer would you be willing to have large numbers of U.S. troops remain in Iraq: less than a year, one to two years, two to five years or longer than five years?"

46% said “less than a year.” 22% said “one to two years.” 14% said “two to five years.” 6% said “longer than five years.”

After 2006 when this majority of Americans thought they had given a mandate to Congress to end the war, there is considerable cynicism and mistrust. Arianna Huffington wrote on Monday that this time around

voters want to hear more than "I am going to end the war." They want to know how. Specifically. Concretely. In detail.

Enter Darcy Burner, a Democratic challenger who is running for Congress in Washington state. Working with national security experts and retired military generals such as Major Gen. Paul Eaton, the officer in charge of training the Iraqi military immediately after the invasion in 2003 and 2004, she developed “A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq”, a comprehensive approach to Iraq based on legislation already introduced in Congress.

As of today, 45 Democratic Congressional candidates have signed on to the plan -- including 41 running for the House and 4 running for the Senate.
Among the candidates who helped Burner launch the project are Chellie Pingree, running in Maine's First Congressional District; Donna Edwards, running in Maryland's Fourth Congressional District; Tom Perriello, running in Virginia's Fifth Congressional District; and Eric Massa, running in New York's Twenty-ninth Congressional District.

It's worth noting that this is no collection of "make love, not war" pacifists. Massa is a 24-year Navy veteran. Edwards' father was in the Air Force. Burner's brother served in Iraq. And they are all clear that there are real threats facing America, and that our military needs to stop being distracted -- and depleted -- in Iraq, so it can better address the mounting dangers in Afghanistan and the areas of Pakistan where al-Qaeda has reconstituted itself. So, for national security reasons, they are united in their commitment to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq and begin to repair the damage the war has done to America's standing in the world.

The idea is to band together a group of challengers running on a shared platform who, if elected, will be able to head into Congress armed with a mandate, supported by allies, and wielding a specific legislative agenda designed to end the war. Call it A Contract to Restore America.
Leads about the
story focus on the pledge to push for immediate drawdown of troops in Iraq if they are elected, leaving only a security force in place to guard the U.S. embassy, not leaving troops to train Iraqis. And those are elements of the plan, but the plan needs to be read in its thirty-six pages. It’s premise is clear:
There is no military solution in Iraq. Our current course unacceptably holds U.S. strategic fortunes hostage to events in Iraq that are beyond our control; we must change course. Using diplomatic, political, and economic power, we can responsibly end the war and remove all of our troops from Iraq.
I like the detail of the plan, but I also like the plan’s clarity about “the desired end state.” Someone wise said that if you do not know your destination you are not likely to get there. The “destinations” of this plan are clear:
• An end to US military obligations and costs in Iraq.

• An end to wide-scale civilian deaths in Iraq, and broader protection for human rights there.

• Reducing the threat posed to the rest of the world by an unstable Iraq, including the threat posed by the use of Iraq as a terrorist training ground.

• A U.S. energy policy that frees us from our dependence on oil.

• Repairing U.S. institutions to avoid making the same mistake again.

The Plan also includes a set of things that are explicitly NOT desired ends. I think these are of equal importance to the five “destinations” stated above:
• No use of Iraq as a military leverage point for the U.S. in the Middle East.
Iraq Study Group Recommendation 22: The President should state that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Iraq. If the Iraqi government were to request a temporary base or bases, then the U.S. government could consider that request as it would in the case of any other government.
• No U.S. domination over Iraqi oil.
Iraq Study Group Recommendation 23: The President should restate that the United States does not seek to control Iraq’s oil.
• No protection of profits for war profiteers. Contractors who have abused U.S. taxpayers and Iraqi citizens by failing to deliver on their contractual obligations, by delivering substandard goods or services, or by working counter to the interests of the U.S. and the Iraqis should be held to account. At a minimum, profits made by such contractors at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer and the Iraqi people should be refunded.

Heady stuff, this! Read the Plan. Hold up the “desired end state” to the detailed plan. Talk about it with your friends and in discussion groups. Compare it to the plans put forward by the presidential candidates.

What can we do to end the war in Iraq and begin to restore our Constitution and military?

1. Elect a President who is committed to this plan, or one like it.

2. Elect the Congressional candidates who had the audacity to put this plan together and commit themselves to it.

3. Elect others who will commit to it, so that there are veto-proof majorities of Representatives and Senators committed to ending the war and restoring our Constitution.

These three things are possible. All we need, in Einstein’s words, are for the “conscience and common sense” of the American people to awaken. That may just be happening before our very eyes.

- Milo

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