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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Where’s the Plan on Iraq?

Thomas Friedman’s column on Iraq in today’s New York Times raises a couple of rather pertinent questions: does the Bush administration really have a strategy for a successful end-game? And if not, does anyone else?It’s increasingly obvious that the administration’s happy-talk about Iraq–most notably Dick Cheney’s claim that the latest upsurge in violence is the insurgency’s “last throes”–is mendacious stonewalling of the worst kind. There are a lot of theories kicking around about the administration’s actual thinking. One is the idea that it’s simply waiting for the approval of a fully constitutional Iraqi government this fall before finally announcing an intention to begin withdrawing U.S. troops. Another is the belief, suggested by my colleague The Moose, that the Bushies have entered a full LBJ Vietnam mode, in which they are imprisoned by past decisions and are simply blundering ahead without vision or hope.Either way, what should the rest of us think or propose? To be sure, most Democrats, whether or not they supported the original decision to to invade Iraq, have generally supported the proposition that failure to secure the country and create a decent opportunity for a stable democratic regime would be a terrible setback for America and its interests. And to be sure, Democrats don’t have much responsibility for the horrendous series of misteps by the Bush administration that have led us to this unhappy juncture in Iraq. But simply calling for U.S. withdrawal on a fixed timetable unrelated to the political situation in Iraq, as many Democrats are beginning to do, simply compounds the administration’s irresponsibility and reinforces the Bush/Rove/Rumsfeld argument that theirs in the only alternative to retreat and surrender.Friedman argues that critics of the administration should propose “doubling the boots on the ground” in Iraq to shake up the current drift towards chaos and give the Iraqi government a once-and-for-all chance to force Shia and Sunni leaders to pick sides and commit themselves to a pluralistic democracy. Given the Pentagon’s struggles to support the current level of deployment, I don’t think this is a lively option.But Friedman’s demand that we all stop staring at polling data on Iraq and have a real debate on what we propose to do is salutory. If the administration is unwilling to engage in that debate, then it should be forced upon them by Congress and the country. My own small insight is that perhaps we should begin to make reduction of the American presence a political prize for all the factions in Iraq–an incentive for Sunni support of the government, and a source of credibility for the government itself. Perhaps that’s where the administration is headed, but if so, they need to say so, to Iraqis, and to Americans as well.The time for happy talk is over. Iraqis aren’t buying it, and neither are Americans. It should be easy for Democrats–and increasingly, for many Republicans–to unite in a demand for a real plan.

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