Emerging Bipartisan Consensus: The Iraq War is a “Major Debacle”

Exeunt Left—How to get out of Iraq? Ten Democratic candidates for the U.S. House have a plan. “A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq,” by Darcy Burner of Washington, Donna Edwards of Maryland, and eight other candidates can be described as the opposite of John McCain’s Hundred Years’ War plan. It’s also a departure from the Democrats’ conventional wisdom, because it advocates removing all U.S. troops from Iraq.

The thirty-six-page exit strategy begins with a sober reminder of the magnitude of failure in Iraq: 4,000 American troops dead, 30,000 seriously injured, and a total cost of $3 trillion in borrowed money. It describes the Iraqi people as victims of a military, social, and economic disaster: as many as one million dead; four million refugees; no reliable electricity; no functioning school system; a broken health-care and hospital system; a destroyed civil infrastructure; and 60 percent of the nation unemployed.

This brief critique is prologue to the plan, which pivots on the premise that the American people have been presented with a false choice: either a continued U.S. military occupation of Iraq or else withdrawing from it and allowing the country to fall into an even worse condition of chaos.

The Burner-Edwards plan is greater than the sum of its parts. It proposes a multinational program that would provide the stability required to rebuild Iraq. And it calls for dismantling the unconstitutional architecture that the Bush/Cheney administration created to conduct the war: the suspension of habeas corpus; signing statements, with which the president has rewritten laws passed by Congress; supplemental appropriations to pay for war rather than including costs in the military appropriations process. The plan is also a compelling argument for rolling back the over-reaching authority associated with the “unitary executive,” as advanced by Dick Cheney and his neocon backers. The big fix inherent in the plan is based on restoring Congress and the Judiciary to their rightful places as co-equal branches of government.

The plan relies on recommendations made by the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group and describes prescriptive legislation that has already been filed in Congress. It also brings into high relief the failure of the current Democratic majority, which was elected in 2006 by an overwhelming anti-war vote. It will be difficult to dismiss the plan as a creation of the “Kumbaya” left. Major General Paul Eaton, who commanded the Iraq Security Transition Team before he retired, is a co-author, as are Retired Brigadier General John H. Johns (a counterinsurgency expert), Retired Navy Captain Larry Seaquist, and Lawrence Korb, who served as an Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Reagan. Endorsed by fifty-one Democratic House candidates and four candidates for the U.S. Senate, the plan is worth reading (and perhaps endorsing) at www.responsibleplan.com.

Rethinking a Mistake—The war isn’t faring so well in assessments from the right, either. Consider the first paragraph of Joseph J. Collins’s report “Choosing War: The Decision to Invade Iraq and Its Aftermath”:

Measured in blood and treasure, the war in Iraq has achieved the status of a major war and a major debacle. As of fall 2007, this conflict has cost the United States over 3,800 dead and over 28,000 wounded. Allied casualties accounted for another 300 dead. Iraqi civilian deaths—mostly at the hands of other Iraqis—may number as high as 82,000. Over 7,500 Iraqi soldiers and police officers have also been killed. Fifteen percent of the Iraqi population has become refugees or displaced persons. The Congressional Research Service estimates that the United States now spends over $10 billion per month on the war . . . all of which has been covered by deficit spending.

Collins, who worked for Iraq War architect Douglas Feith at the State Department, was commissioned to write the report by the National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies. He has produced a brief, dispassionate account of the rush to war, made possible by the dysfunction the Bush administration created in the departments and agencies responsible for our foreign policy. “Choosing War” concludes with a list of reforms (including increased funding and authority for a State Department that has been shoved to the side by this administration) and a quote from Churchill: “Let us learn our lessons. Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy. . . .” The reportprovides a good, quick overview of our failed policy in Iraq.