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Iraq – What Would the Dems Do?

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On June 15th and 16th there was a fractious debate in the House of Representatives on the subject of Iraq. When you cut through all the verbiage, the Republican's Resolution 861 had two claims: the war in Iraq is integral to the global war on terror and "it is not in the national security interest of the United States to set an arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Iraq." HR 861 passed 256 to 153, largely along partisan lines. Anyone watching the debate might have wondered: if the Democrats were in control of the house, what would they actually do about Iraq?

President Bush characterized the split between the two parties as the difference between "resolve" and "retreat." His political adviser, Karl Rove, attacked anti-war Democrats such as John Kerry and John Murtha, accused them of advocating, "cutting and running." Rove, who has never been in the military, said of the two decorated veterans, "They may be with you for the first shots, but they're not going . . . to be with you for the tough battles." Republicans repeatedly characterized Dems as lacking the will to win, advocating "surrender."

When we cut through this vituperation, what do Democrats actually stand for? More importantly, what does what they said during the debate suggest that they would do if they won control of the house?

On June 15th, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered a stinging indictment of Bush's leadership. "Stay the course - I don't think so. It's time to face the facts. On every important aspect of the Iraq war, President Bush and his advisors have been wrong." Pelosi noted that defense expert Anthony Cordesman recently observed, "the US-managed reconstruction efforts have been as failed as our response to Hurricane Katrina." She continued, "The Bush Iraq policy has diverted resources and attention from what should be the focus of our effort against terrorism in places like Afghanistan." "The war has not made our country safer, it has not made our military stronger, it has caused great damage to our reputation in the world, and it has hindered the fight against terrorism." Pelosi concluded, "In the face of all of the incompetence and cost of this war, the President urges us to stay the course. 'Stay the course,' Mr. President, is not a strategy, it's a slogan."

149 Democrats, roughly 75 percent of those Dems who voted, were against House Resolution 861. They joined with Murtha and Pelosi who said, "Democrats are calling for a new direction in Iraq. Our new direction would say to the Iraqi people: we will not be in your country indefinitely, we will not construct permanent bases, and we will not control the flow of your oil. We will work with you and your neighbors diplomatically to ensure that the reconstruction of Iraq is successful. We will do as Mr. Murtha advocates: we will 'redeploy and be ready." (On November 17th, Representative Murtha specified his plan for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.)

From Nancy Pelosi's statements one would expect that if Democrats gained control of the House they would hold a series of hearings. One would be on the errors made by the Bush Administration, particularly the wasted reconstruction funds. A recent survey of foreign-policy experts found that 84 percent believe the US is not winning the war on terror. Democrats would likely follow up on this, ask what America should be doing to win the war on terror. Of course, the key questions remain: Is Iraq integral to the war on terror? And, if it is, are we pursuing the right strategy there? A Democratic majority should promote a real debate on these issues.

A logical place for a Democratic majority to begin would be a realistic assessment of where we are in Iraq. In The State of Iraq: An Update in the June 16th New York Times painted a grim picture. In comparison with May 2005, the number of US troops is down slightly, to 132 thousand, and the number of trained Iraqi security forces is up by 40 thousand. Nonetheless, violence has increased: Iraqi civilian deaths, Iraqis kidnapped, daily attacks by Insurgents and incidents of sectarian violence are up. According to The Times the percent of "Iraqis optimistic about future" decreased from sixty to thirty percent. Meanwhile oil production, household fuel supplies and average electric power remain below pre-war levels.

The key action for Democratic majority would be to hold hearings about the torrent of lies told by the Bush Administration. The American public must be made aware that every step taken by the President in Iraq has been based upon a lie: the justification for the invasion, the cost and length of the conflict, the plan for the occupation, the response to the insurgency, and the connection to the war on terror. Republicans have deceived us and the public needs to be told the truth. They won't get this until Democrats control Congress.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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