Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Iraq Around the Clock

So the Republican Congress is setting up Iraq as the issue for the election, Bush has a bounce as a result of the Zahawi rubout and what everyone wants to know is “What does that skinny blogger in Akron think about all this?” OK, not really. Which is why I generally avoid national news.

I still have no clue what the US should do about Iraq. I do, for what little it may be worth, have some ideas about how the Dems should handle the issue.

First off, the party needs to agree on a core goal for whatever policy we come up with –something along the lines of a stable Iraqi government that can hold its own against the insurgency. One problem that seems to be hampering the effort to respond to the issue is that a fairly sizable minority – with Kucinich at the helm – appears to believe that the core goal is getting the U.S. out, come what may. That is to say, even if it could somehow be proven to Kucinich that keeping a force in Iraq for, say another three years would yield benefits to U.S. interests, it looks to me like the Kucinich response would be that we should get out anyway on moral grounds.

The Dems need to make a statement that peace at all costs is not the majority position. If I’m wrong and no “Peace camp” exists, so much the better. If I’m right, that camp needs to be left to its minority status. I’m sure on the far right are Republican Members who think we should nuke Tehran tomorrow and Damascus on Thursday, but the party hasn’t let them define the terms of the debate. Our far wing has too much voice.

Whatever policy comes out should be a policy that aims at that core goal. Murtha proposed his over-the-horizon plan because he believes it is the best way to force the Iraqis to stabilize their government and solidify their security forces.

Finally, and most importantly, the Dems need to acknowledge that whatever their plan, Bush will be in charge for the next two years, meaning they are unlikely to force a withdrawl or any other sharp shift in policy. As such, they should look at what they can do if they find themselves holding one or both houses to make things better. Some suggestions:

  • An anti-torture policy with strong oversight from Congress. And we should emphasize that the Global War on Terror is above all a war of ideas. If we can’t demonstrate that a secular democracy can respect human rights, we lose the war on the only front that ultimately matters.

  • Contractor oversight. The insurgency took root because we couldn’t turn the lights on. A fair pile of evidence suggests that we couldn’t turn the lights on because of corruption and incompetence in the reconstruction effort. Probably it’s too late to make a difference, but let’s at least try to do what’s left right.

  • No permanent bases. What’s the opposite of cut and run? Stay forever. Americans want neither, but right now they only see one side proposing the bad thing. Democrats should hammer constantly on the Conference Committee sneaking the No Permanent Bases provision out of the appropriations bill. Last week’s House Resolution looks damned reasonable – stay until the job is done. We should be pointing out that they not only resist a timetable, they resist the simple promise that we will leave someday.
All of which brings me to the information I’ve been getting from Sherrod. He is going after Dewine over amnesty for insurgents who have killed American troops. The Iraqis want to give it, Dewine is OK with it, Sherrod is agin’ it.

The downside is that people may regard Sherrod’s position as being to the right of Dewine’s. To the right of Dewine is not Sherrod's natural habitat. He’s not going to pick up voters who hang out there. What’s more, Dewine is going to have more credibility on his right flank than Sherrod, so whatever explanation he has for his position is likely to be persuasive.

I could be wrong, and it’s certainly important to find policy differences. Which is why I’m puzzled that neither Sherrod nor any other Dem pol is using the No Permanent Bases amendment as an issue.

In any event, Sherrod is showing the beginnings of a strategy for working the Iraq issue to his advantage. Given the generally feeble showing of Dems this past week, it’s good to see signs of life close to home.