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10 Things Progressives Should be Saying about Iraq

Really, really good stuff from Democracy Arsenal:

"Rather than splitting hairs on drawdown [of forces in Iraq] progressives should be clear and forceful where they can be. The Center for American Progress has done a fantastic memo to the President outlining what we're up against in Iraq. A great follow-up would say what conclusions can be drawn and what ought to happen next. Here are 10 things the progressives ought to be saying on Iraq.

1. This Iraq operation was a mistake - The American public needs to hear it from those progressives who haven't yet admitted it.

2. The Administration's actions have brought us to this point - Bad intel, poor planning, inadequate international support, and faulty decision-making all played a part; and the Administration's to blame for all of these. Whether a hypothetical war, done differently, might've gone better is not the issue. For those who supported the war, the biggest mistake was trusting an arrogant and blinkered Administration to do such a tough job right. There's no need to apologize for not calling the problem sooner. Progressives have demanded mid-course corrections at every turn.

3. We'll never win without a strategy, and the Administration doesn't have one - The Iraq operation has been lurching without direction for months, and none of Bush's public statements have come close to filling the gap.

4. Any strategy needs to start by facing the facts on the ground - The Administration is in deep denial, and the public is growing uneasy about it. Acknowledging the strength of the insurgency, the failure to achieve a constitution that enjoys Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish support, and the toll the effort is taking on American troops will not come off as defeatist, since even the most casual observer is painfully aware of all of these.

5. Any strategy will end with American withdrawal - We never intended to be in Iraq forever, so there's no shame thinking about how and when our men and women come home. The difficulties we're facing and the absence of an Administration strategy make the question more pressing.

6. Our objective is pure and simple: to leave Iraq stable - Security and stability are the main concerns of Iraqis, and the leading U.S. interests when it comes to Iraq's future. They are also prerequisites for liberty and democracy. But rather than utopian visions of Iraqi freedom, our focus is on the precondition for US withdrawal, and that's stability -- meaning a weakening of the insurgency; law and order; a functioning Iraqi authority and a stable dynamic between Iraq's major political forces.

7. We need to quickly determine how to achieve success - Right now we don't know if the war is winnable. We should take a finite amount of time -- say through the end of 2005 -- to figure that out. Doing so should entail the following:

- - a coherent counter-insurgency strategy - Yet another major lapse in the Administration's conduct of the war has emerged publicly in recent days: we have no counter-insurgency strategy and the most basic lessons of major past insurgency battles, like Vietnam, aren't being heeded. A variety of proposals have been forward for counter-insurgency approaches. The Administration needs to adopt one and fast so that by December we can judge whether its gaining traction or not.

- - an independent audit of the training effort - it's hard to get straight facts on how the training of Iraqi troops is going (estimates of capable Iraqi troops range from 2,500 to 21,000). Without accurate information, it's impossible to know whether we stand a chance of turning Iraq over to homegrown security forces.

The audit (by the Government Accountability Office or another qualified body) should focus on four questions:

1) how many Iraqi troops are now capable of keeping the peace and fighting the insurgency?
2) how many more do we need so that the US military is no longer the only thing between Iraq and full-on civil war?
3) how long will it take to get to that number? and
4) what - meaning tactics, resources, equipment - will make it happen faster and more reliably? The audit should be done by October 30 so that we can judge by late December whether the results are being put into practice.

- - direct engagement of Iraq's neighbors - Iraq's neighbors will play a key part in what happens once we leave. As Wesley Clark and others have suggested, we ought to be talking to them now about political and economic relationships with Iraq, and about the insurgency. Even if we get the cold shoulder, we'll at least know we can't count on them.

- - a strict border control regime - This is essential in every scenario, to keep Iraq from being both a magnet and a source of insurgents. Lighting, night-vision equipment, weapons detection equipment and radars are all part of the package, as are cooperation with Iraq's neighbors and ample trained personnel.

- - expedited reconstruction projects - According to CAP, only $9 of the $24 billion allocated by Congress for reconstruction projects for FY 2003-2205 has been spent. Security is an impediment, but if our goal is to be out sooner, the pace of reconstruction needs to be stepped up, even if the cost of projects gets inflated due to the need for extra protection. The Administration should be charged with devising a list of reconstruction projects that deserve priority because they can play a role in getting us out sooner.

8. Progress on each of these points should be reported monthly - If there's no significant headway being made by year's end once the next round of Iraqi national elections take place, withdrawal timetables may deserve the center stage some are giving them now.

9. Meanwhile, we need to do a better job supporting our troops and veterans - When it comes to benefits, equipment, schedules, etc.

10. And keep leveling with the American public - Since the Administration seems bent on keeping the truth from the public, progressives can play a key role making sure the debate is well-informed, and that the public stays engaged."
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