Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly’s Political Animal threw down a blunt challenge last night to Democrats who don’t support an early fixed date for withdrawal from Iraq, basically suggesting they don’t have a clue about what to do and simply don’t want to appear “weak” for cynical political reasons. He cited my last post–a brief discussion and link to a couple of New Republic articles–as evidence of this cluelessness, if not the cynicism.Well, I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to write about Iraq without articulating a full-blown plan for the country, but speaking only for myself, yeah, I have a few thoughts about what we should say and do, based in part on Larry Diamond’s long-standing recommendations:1) Publicly announce the United States is abandoning any plans for permanent military bases in Iraq to make it absolutely clear our presence is temporary.2) Publicly announce benchmarks that will trigger withdrawal of American troops, including approval of a constitution and election of a permanent government; specific levels of trained Iraqi troops and other security forces; and renunciation of demands by major Iraqi communities that are incompatible with a stable and pluralistic regime (e.g., Kurdish right to secede, Sunni Arab privileges in a strong central government, Iranian-style Islamic Republic).3) Initiate direct negotiations with insurgents.4) Renounce any public or private-sector U.S. designs for control of Iraqi natural resources5) Launch an internationalized reconstruction effort which explicitly renounces U.S. exclusive privileges, with special attention to assistance from Sunni Arab countriesThe goal would be to leave Iraq with a half-decent chance of maintaining a sustainable government without civil war, foreign domination, or a permament base of operations and recruitment for al Qaeda. The main strategy would be to convince, through carrots and sticks, the Kurds, Sunni Arabs, and Shi’a to step back from their maximalist demands, while creating trans-communal political and security institutions. The philosophy would be to dramatically invest Iraqis with complete responsibility for their common future. And while they would not provide a guaranteed, fixed date for final U.S. withdrawal, the benchmarks would immediately create tests for Iraqis that would either lead to greater stability in the country ad large U.S. troop withdrawals in a matter of months, or would make it clear it truly is time to cut our losses and leave with a brief effort at damage control. Now, there are all sorts of objections that can legitimately be made about every line I’ve written above, but the same is obviously true about every other approach, including “timed withdrawal,” which even its advocates admit will likely lead to a failed state and chaos. And if you think my suggestions are stupid, then check out the very detailed plan articulated by Wes Clark, another opponent of “timed withdrawal,” who has forgotten more about military operations and nation-building than Kevin or I will ever know. In demanding alternatives from “hawks,” Kevin adds another stipulation that is troubling once you really think about it: any plan must be realistic given “the leadership of George Bush and his staff, not some fantasy scenario in which he suddenly turns into the reincarnation of FDR.”Unfortunately, that kind of makes any Democratic proposal on Iraq unrealistic, doesn’t it? I mean, Bush and his staff are not about to embrace “timed withdrawal,” either. And they are going to be in office until January of 2009, a juncture at which even neocons aren’t going to be arguing for 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The Democratic responsibility on Iraq, other than making all the richly deserved critiques of administration policy that we’ve all been writing and talking about for years, is to give the public an idea of what our leaders would do if they were in power, nothing more and nothing less. And like it or not, this is an inherently political calculation that does not necessarily mean choosing the position most diametrically opposed to Bush.Tetchiness aside, I want to make it clear that Kevin and other “timed withdrawal” advocates are absolutely asking good and important questions of all Democrats, and particularly those who resist the course of just denouncing the whole Iraq enterprise as a disaster and getting out. I certainly share the impulse to unambiguously pin Bush and the GOP with total responsibility for the mess by refusing to countenance support for it in any form. But at a moment when there remains a chance to salvage something positive for the people of Iraq and for the sacrifices of our own troops, my own “moral compass” points me elsewhere.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
Fortunately, the federal government will stay open through the holidays, but Democrats must stay vigilant, since the nihilist forces that keep bringing Congress to the brink have not gone away, as I explained at New York:
After his success in passing a two-tiered stopgap spending bill with a ton of Democratic votes and quiet concurrence from the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House, freshly minted House Speaker Mike Johnson hastily retreated into a Thanksgiving recess with angry shouts from his erstwhile hard-core MAGA allies echoing in his ears, as Punchbowl News reports:
“Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), policy chair for the House Freedom Caucus, went to the House floor and angrily bashed the GOP leadership after members had bolted town on Wednesday, a bitter ending to a grueling 10-week marathon for the chamber.
“’I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing — one — that I can go campaign on and say we did. One!’ Roy yelled during a speech in an otherwise empty House chamber.
“’Anybody sitting in the complex, you want to come down to the floor and come explain to me one material, meaningful, significant thing the Republican majority has done besides, well, I guess it’s not as bad as the Democrats.’”
Among the “material, significant things” Roy and others among the 93 House Republicans who voted against Johnson’s plan wanted were deep spending cuts in disfavored areas of the federal government and perhaps some symbolic policy shibboleths smiting abortion providers or transgender athletes or tax collectors. Such items would have been treated by Democrats and even some Republicans as poison pills, which is why Johnson’s “clean” stopgap bill didn’t include them. The new Speaker’s support for a “clean” bill and his reliance on Democratic voters are precisely the actions that got old Speaker Kevin McCarthy tossed out on his ear. Thanks to Johnson’s past record of rigorous right-wing orthodoxy (and perhaps exhaustion following the long fight over McCarthy’s successor), his rebellious friends appear to have given him a mulligan. But it probably won’t last.
A new government shutdown threat will likely appear once the first “tier” of the stopgap bill expires on January 19. Indeed, the hard-liners are already firing shots across Johnson’s bow, as Politico reports:
“Hardliners sunk any chances of passage for two additional funding bills this week — marking a major setback for Speaker Mike Johnson less than 24 hours after working with Democrats to pass a bill that would thwart a shutdown deadline Saturday …
“GOP leadership then canceled the rest of the votes for the week, with Republicans predicting that Johnson’s spending headache won’t get any easier once they return at the end of the month.
“Instead, members of the Freedom Caucus vowed to continue blocking House Republicans’ remaining five funding bills. They urged Johnson to come up with a plan that would cut spending for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, without any accounting tricks.”
What makes this revolt even more significant is that Freedom Caucus types are really obsessed with the need to enact individual appropriations bills instead of the catchall measures they believe endemic to out-of-control federal spending. A big part of the rationale for Johnson’s two-tiered stopgap was to provide enough time — and no more — for passage of these individual bills. But now HFC leaders are sabotaging that very possibility out of a fit of pique, in an exceptional example of what it means to cut off your nose to spite your face.
The thing is, Senate Democrats and the White House aren’t going to bend to Chip Roy’s definition of what the American people want or need between now and the time the next shutdown crisis arrives (indeed, a collision over aid to Ukraine and border policy contained in the president’s supplemental spending proposal will likely come to a head before Christmas). So the shutdown threat may have simply been deferred for a bit even as House GOP hard-liners flagellate themselves for letting Johnson off the hook for the exact sins that damned McCarthy. Enjoy the holidays, federal employees. But stash away some provisions for what could be a stormy winter.