Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Democratic Plan for Iraq

Top house Democrats today revealed their plan today for forcing President Bush's and the Iraqi government's hands towards a resolution of the Iraq occupation.

And though Republicans and Bush himself will no doubt fall back to their talking points about timetables and "letting the commanders on the ground" make the decisions, the plan seems to actually put forth a reasonable path towards excavating ourselves from the hole that BushCorp™ has dug for us.

It remains to be seen whether Bush and the Republicans will have the wisdom to use the opportunity they're being offered.

Here are the key features of the proposed plan and their importance.

Date Certain
Regardless of the any other provisions of the bill (called "U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans Health and Iraq Accountability Act"), troops withdrawals are to begin by March, 2008, ending by August of that year.

Requires adherence to Bush's benchmarks
This requires that Bush certify that the Iraqi government meet the benchmarks that he himself set up when authorizing the current escalation surge. Two deadlines are involved here. By July 1, 2007 Bush must certify that "progress" has been made towards his benchmarks, failure to do so triggers a withdrawal window within 6 months. And by October, 2007 the Iraqis must have acheived Bush's benchmarks else it triggers a 180 day withdrawal window with the last Americans leaving by March 2008.

The key importance of these provisions is that they force the Iraqi government to do something it has been loath to do in the past, its job. It gives the Iraqis a choice and an opportunity: they can continue their internicine squabbling and parochial pursuit of tribal (as oposed to national) interests, or they can put their bickering aside and become the founding fathers of a new Iraq. (For an extended revery on the value of timetables see here).

And the timetables also help Bush force Iraqi co-operation while giving him a chance to save face (I know, he doesn't deserve to, but it may be necessary unless Democrats are somehow able to put together a veto-proof majority). As with Musharraf in Pakistan, the administration can use the Democratic congress as a sword to hold over their heads. "Look Nouri, I'd love to give you all the time in the world, but these Democrats..."

(Really) Supporting the Troops
The bill requires that the Army adhere to its own rest and readiness standards.

In large part Bush has been able to continue fighting this war by extending tours of duty and cutting short training and equipment for an Army now strained to the breaking point. Bush can still over-rule this provision, if he can publicly and specifically justify his actions. In other words, he has to tell the American people why he's short-changing the troops.

Further the bill provides for obviously much needed improvement for funding for military and veteran healthcare. The ongoing Walter Reed scandal alone shows the obvious necessity for this provision.

Fighting the Real War on the 9/11 Terrorists
The proposed Democratic plan provides for increased funding for the war in Afghanistan.

One of the many casualties of Bush's misguided Iraqi adventure was and is the fight against the people who actually attacked us on 9/11 and their Taliban supporters in Afghanistan. With al Qaeda and the Taliban resurgent, and Osama bin Laden (you remember him?) still on the loose Democrats are seeking to address problems that should have been resolved long ago, but were left undone by Bush's rush to war with Iraq.

Final thoughts (for the moment)
As the top US commander in Iraq, general David Petraeus has just pointed out, the problems in Iraq cannot be resolved by the military alone, but require the Iraqi government to do the work required to come together and bring a measure of security to their country.

And though, to our everlasting shame, the US invasion was the catalyst for the civil war now enveloping that country, it's becoming increasingly evident that our military presence there is not ever going to be a solution.

Therefore the only rational course of action is to stop the waste (I'll use the term if no-one else will) of American lives and resources in an unwinnable situation, while at the same time providing the Iraqis with both incentives to come together, as well as the sure knowledge that they MUST do so in order to survive.

Bush has continued to refuse to make this admittedly hard, but necessary decision. By doing so he has ceded the administration's responsibility for setting policy for the men and women fighting in Iraq. It is therefore incumbent on Congress to force his hand.

Let us hope he takes this opportunity.

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