Shayne Hughes

Would Someone Please Think When They Propose an Iraq Strategy?

Date May 11, 2007

It has been disheartening to watch the Congressional attempts to rein in the Bush Administration on the Iraq war. As promised, Bush vetoed the Democrats’ bill calling for an imposed troop withdrawl, and he did well to do so. The only thing worse than American troops fighting indefinitely in Iraq (Bush’s current strategy) would be the chaos that would follow any premature US departure, without a deeply rooted stability in place (Democrat’s current strategy). Why is the only debate in town an argument over who is going to enforce their own ill-conceived pseudo-plan? Why are we as the American public forced to choose between two polar opposite, although equally futile, proposals? Are any of our elected officials doing any serious thinking about this awful situation?

Let’s resummarize the essential argument on both sides:
Bush: Whether or not you agree with the decision to go to war, if you leave now you will make it much worse. Power vacuum, civil war, terrorist breeding ground for Al-Queda, another 9/11, etc etc.
Democrats: A surge is not a strategy; the war is already lost; we need to bring the troops home asap to minimize losses; the American people have spoken (“End the war”), so Bush should listen.

Both positions are correct. [Except for the last point in the Democrats argument: the message the American people sent was that they are fed up with the ineffective and incredibly naive decision-making of Bush/Republicans in Iraq; they didn’t tell Democrats to go do something even more short-sighted and destined to fail than the fallacy that got us into the situation in the first place (I’m of course assuming with incredible arrogance that I think I know what the rest of my compatriots were saying; I’m really just projecting my opinion onto the other 100 million voters with unabashed certainty, but give me the benefit of the doubt for the moment).

The problem is that both of these parties are totally missing the point. We cannot get ourselves and the Iraqi people out of this quagmire with the same tunnel vision, posturing and politically-framed thinking that got us into it. I think the American people are starved for something different.

I want to hear substantive debate on Capitol Hill:
– How to engage Iran, Syria, Lebanon and our other Arab allies to help us stem the tide of jihadists streaming into Iraq. What public and private pressure can they bring to calm the insurgency? We’ll need to come off our high horse to do this and actually engage them as human beings with valid perspectives and interests.
– Owning up to the world that we collectively made some very costly mistakes in our decision to invade Iraq, and now we need their help to clean up our mess. I say “collectively” because as much as we all like to blame Bush today, the number of Democrats who voted against authorizing force in 2003 was very small. We all approved this war, so let’s collectively deal w/ the seeds we have sown.
– Dust off the Iraq Study Group’s report. The experienced brainpower of that group produced some very well thought out, bi-partisan suggestions. What happened to them? We were all (very briefly) hopeful that some thoughtful leadership might emerge from their work, but alas, they have been all but forgotten, at least in the public dialogue.

Republicans are complaining that Congress is micromanaging the Commander in Chief, but with all due respect, Bush needs to be micromanaged. Quite frankly, why should we trust Bush to do anything well at this point? Everything he has done leading up to and in this war has lacked: a rigorous fact-based analysis; even a basic understanding of and sense of caring for the people involved; a disciplined and competent implementation. From Hurrican Katrina to tax rates to national debt management to Medicare/Medicaid to Iraq and the War on Terror to managing Iran and the Muslim world to building bi-partisan governance to the environment, he has been a complete failure. We should not be giving him any leeway whatsoever right now. We need to minimize the damage he can do in the world over the next 18 months. Micromanaging this commander in chief sounds like a really smart thing to do.

But we need to be more thoughtful and open-minded than he has been if we are going to do it. Simply replacing his “stay the course” with a Democratic “stop the fight” will have terrible consequences. Start looking for and proposing real solutions. If you are going to put deadlines on him, demand that he implement key provisions of the Iraq Study Group.

And one more question: We keep talking about the impact on soldier morale if we express our doubts about the winnability or validity of the war. Has anyone asked the soldiers their opinion? If I were over in Iraq fighting a war that I have second thoughts about, I’d damn sure want my leaders taking every precaution that we were killing ourselves for the ‘right’ cause, with the best strategy. I’d like to see the Democrats learn to reframe the spin that Republicans put on them vs. stammering defensively…


Shayne Hughes


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