The Democrats' Quagmire

Yesterday, if you went to and followed the links to discover Kerry’s thoughts on Iraq, you’d finally reach the prompt: “What is Kerry’s plan to win the peace in Iraq? *Read here*.”

Clicking the link simply took you back to Kerry’s home page.

Kerry’s web team thus inadvertently captured perfectly the problem Iraq presents to the Democrats’ nine major presidential hopefuls. All of them agree, to varying extents, that George Bush has made a mess of things. But they’ve been so busy of late harping on Dubya’s failures that few of us have any idea what each of them would do. And there’s this nagging suspicion that they don’t know what they’d do, either. Ask them, and they’re likely to simply send you back to their home page, the one that reads “Bush = bad. Me = good.”

The reality is that no matter how flawed George Bush’s reasons for invading Iraq, the invasion happened. No matter how poorly planned the occupation of Iraq has been, the U.S. still controls Iraq. No matter how corrupt the awarding of no-bid reconstruction projects has been, the contracts are being signed and fortunes are being made. And no matter how absurd the mandate of American soldiers is, the bombs, grenades, bullets, and homemade mortars being fired at them are very deadly, and the weapons they’re firing back with are deadlier still.

If ever there were a time this country needed to set aside sound-bite politics and have a serious discussion of what to do next, this would be it.

Dream on. John Kerry, Bob Edwards, and Howard Dean all want to “win the peace.” (Who, exactly, would then lose the peace?) Perusing the candidates’ official web sites, not many have anything substantive to say at all regarding the future of Iraq. Along with all the ills of our once-popular President, we learn that:

  • Gen. Wesley Clark (ret.), whose candidacy is almost entirely a consequence of his perceived gravitas on military affairs, thinks we must define our exit strategy. However, he doesn’t offer any suggestions himself. Clark gained public prominence by analyzing the invasion for CNN -- but isn’t analyzing the occupation in nearly as much detail. He’s not alone.

  • Howard Dean, at this point the likeliest nominee -- as a direct result of grassroots response to his anti-war stance -- preaches that “America must lead the world, not oppose the world.” His foreign policy specifics? Dean would create an alliance among governments and people everywhere. Cool. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

  • Sen. John Edwards supported the invasion but believes the U.S. “cannot rebuild Iraq alone.” You read it here first. He voted against Dubya’s $87 billion Iraq bill -- as did John Kerry -- but does not want the U.S. to withdraw. Huh?

  • Amazingly, the official site for Richard Gephardt‘s labor-centric bid lists positions on 29 issues, of which only two have anything to do with foreign affairs at all: “International minimum wage” and “Working with Israel.” No war on terror, no Iraq, nothing on the half of federal discretionary spending that goes to the military. It’s the economy, stupid.

  • Dennis Kucinich appears to be the only candidate actually calling for the U.S. to withdraw troops and let the U.N. take it all over -- which is what much of the Democratic Party, and much of Iraq, would prefer. And this just in, also from the Kucinich folks: He has been endorsed by a Canadian professor! (Seriously.)

  • Joseph Ariel Lieberman wants “the world to work together immediately to appoint an international administration... possibly led by a qualified Arab official, and an international security force to oversee Iraq’s reconstruction and transition to democratic self-rule.” Joe also shares the neocon priority of “moving the Muslim world toward (Western) democracy,” but doesn’t even try to reconcile the reality that not only are Iraqis not Arabs, but any “qualified Arab” got that way by moving up the ranks in his own, very non-democratic, country. Joe voted in favor of the $87 billion.

  • Carol Moseley-Braun says that our troops need more resources -- even supplies!! -- and hopes that funds from other countries will “allow us, within the tradition of U.S. command and control over our own forces, allow us [sic] to extricate ourselves with honor but continue a viable war on terrorism that gets bin Laden and his pals.”

  • Al Sharpton urges you to register to vote.
  • For more on John Kerry, click here.

    Excepting Kucinich, who has raised hundreds of dollars to date, none of Dubya’s would-be replacements is challenging the fundamental Bush premise that the U.S. intends and expects to call the shots in Iraq (literally) for a long time to come. None is addressing future specifics of how to help alleviate the dire status of U.S. soldiers, or the even more dire reality facing many ordinary Iraqis.

    Perhaps American politics can’t support such detail; maybe it really is all about image and leadership and judgment and (especially) personality. But like it or not, George Bush has a clear plan for Iraq: loot it bare, shoot anything that moves, and eventually install puppets to oversee the survivors. It’s grim, but it’s simple and concrete.

    Democrats like Clark, Kerry, Dean, Gephardt, and Lieberman need not only to distinguish themselves from Bush and from each other, but to lay out the ideas that they believe would work better. By and large, we’re still waiting.

    In exactly one year, one of these nine people will face George Bush. Are you worried yet?
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