Your orders, Mr. President?
While Congress debates whether to approve resolutions opposing President Bush’s “surge” strategy in Baghdad, and as a new national intelligence estimate paints the war in dire terms, Current asked potential and declared presidential candidates: “Where should we go from here in Iraq?” Below are the answers, edited for length, of those who responded. Full statements can be found at latimes.com/iraqstatements.
Sen. Sam Brownback
Because the stakes are so high, and the cost of failure so tremendous, we’ll need a significant U.S. presence in Iraq for several years, regardless of which party controls Congress and the White House. As we’ve seen in the past, the United Sates cannot successfully fight a war that only one party supports.
In other words, to win over there, we need to unite here. That’s why both political parties should look for common areas of agreement from which we can move forward and build consensus.
One thing is clear: A military solution is unlikely, on its own, to solve the crisis in Iraq. A political solution is necessary for peace and stability. Americans of all political stripes should begin a thoughtful conversation about how we can work toward that goal.
former governor of Massachusetts
Our military mission, for the first time, must include securing the civilian population from violence and terror. Civilian security is the precondition for any political and economic reconstruction.
Securing Iraqi civilians requires additional troops. Five brigades should be added in Baghdad and two regiments in Al Anbar province. Success will require rapid deployment.
This effort should be combined with clear objectives and milestones for U.S. and Iraqi leaders.
Iraq is one front in a larger struggle against a global jihadist movement. An effective strategy will involve both military and diplomatic actions to support modern Muslim nations. America must help lead a broad-based international coalition that promotes secular education, modern financial and economic policies, international trade and human rights.
Rep. Duncan Hunter
President Bush’s newly announced strategy to reduce violence in Baghdad should be the template for accelerating the transfer of security responsibilities to Iraqi military forces. The “Baghdad 3-to-1 Plan,” as it’s known, combines three Iraqi battalions with one U.S. backup battalion in a mentoring role, thereby leveraging the ability of Iraq’s military to operate in an urban environment and among the Iraqi people. Americans will support these efforts with intelligence, special operations, firepower, logistics and precision strikes.
I have recommended to the president that he replicate this model throughout Iraq. U.S.-Iraqi military operations will provide Iraq’s military forces with invaluable combat experience and build and reinforce their confidence. Most important, the 3-1 plan would allow U.S. commanders to evaluate the maturity of Iraqi battalions firsthand and ascertain the correct timing for handing off security responsibilities to the Iraqis.
While the president’s new strategy rightly deploys nine additional Iraqi battalions to Baghdad, we must go further and ensure that all 129 Iraqi combat battalions currently trained and equipped are rotated through the “heart of battle.” This would not only battle-harden Iraqi military units, it would also reinforce civilian control of the military, solidify the chain of command and minimize provincial associations with military units.
Replicating the 3-1 model across Iraq, however, would not be dependent on Iraq’s security forces fielding a full-range of military capabilities. It would require only modestly trained and adequately equipped soldiers. Over time, Iraqis would develop more advanced capabilities as they fight alongside U.S. forces. Implementing this strategy throughout Iraq would provide a significant opportunity to modify the U.S. military course in Iraq. The development of a confident, capable and reliable Iraqi military force remains central to our efforts in that country. Once achieved, it would allow us to leave.
Rep. Ron Paul
Our troops should be removed from Iraq as soon as it is safely possible. The specifics of withdrawal should be left to our military leaders on the ground. This war has lasted longer than World War II. U.S. taxpayers can’t keep spending $8 billion a month to solve Iraq’s problems. The Iraqi government should assume responsibility for defending and policing its own country. It is unwise to have an open-ended commitment of U.S. forces in Iraq.
Don’t believe for a minute that additional congressional funding is needed to ensure that our troops can defend themselves or extricate themselves from the war zone. The Department of Defense has hundreds of billions of dollars in the pipeline available to move troops anywhere on Earth -- including home.
Rep. Tom Tancredo
The nature of the conflict in Iraq and our role in that conflict have changed. We are now referees in what has become a civil war. I cannot see how, even if the “surge” temporarily pacifies Baghdad, we can in the long run consider our participation in this conflict as helpful in the global conflict against radical Islam.
Our departure from Iraq will result in one of two scenarios. One, the people of Iraq will prove themselves capable of the challenge of democracy. Or the factions in Iraq -- and the regional powers backing them -- will continue to battle with one another. In either case, there are potential advantages for the U.S.
Sen. Barack Obama
No amount of American forces can solve the political differences that lie at the heart of somebody else’s civil war, which is why the president’s decision to escalate this war has been opposed by Democrats and Republicans, generals and experts, Americans and even the Iraqis. There is no military solution in Iraq. Our best remaining hope is to pressure the warring factions to reach a political settlement that can end the bloodshed. The Iraqis have not yet been willing to take this responsibility, and so the real leverage we have left is to start the phased redeployment of our troops to let the Iraqis know that America’s commitment is no longer open-ended.
I have introduced a bill in Congress that would cap the number of troops in Iraq at pre-"surge” levels and commence this phased redeployment of American forces no later than May 1, with the goal of removing all U.S. combat forces from Iraq by March 31, 2008. If the Iraqis are successful in meeting the 13 benchmarks for progress laid out by the Bush administration, my bill would allow temporary suspension of the redeployment, provided Congress agrees that the benchmarks have been met and that the suspension is in the national security interest of the United States.
former senator from North Carolina
Because the president refuses to change course in Iraq, Congress must use its power of the purse to block funding for an escalation of the war. The situation in Iraq demands a political solution. The most important step we can take toward that solution is to turn responsibility over to Iraqis. We need to make it clear to them that we are leaving -- and the best way to do that is to start leaving. About 40,000 to 50,000 combat troops should be withdrawn from Iraq immediately, and our military leaders should be asked to come up with a responsible strategy to have the rest of them out over the next 12 to 18 months. We must restore America’s moral leadership in the world -- and to do that, we must start leaving Iraq.
Sen. Christopher Dodd
Congress should take meaningful action to stop the president’s plans to escalate our involvement in Iraq. Last month, I offered an amendment to the nonbinding resolution that would cap the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and require the president to seek a new authorization from Congress before any additional troops were deployed there -- an authorization I would vigorously oppose.
Every American should be able to know whether his or her senator is prepared to legally bind the president from continuing his policy of folly. But stopping the escalation of U.S. forces should only be the first step in a broader plan to stabilize Iraq and bring our troops home. We must begin redeploying American soldiers away from urban areas, where sectarian conflict is greatest, to the country’s borders and certain enclaves within Iraq, as well as elsewhere in the region. We must also engage Iraq’s neighbors diplomatically to help Iraqis come together.
This will enable U.S. forces to concentrate on training Iraqi forces, securing Iraq’s borders and conducting counterterrorism operations to protect vital U.S. security interests in the region.
governor of New Mexico
We must redeploy our military forces from Iraq over the next year, as we launch a diplomatic offensive to get the Iraqis, their neighbors and international donors to help stabilize the country -- or bear the terrible costs of failing to do so.
The Bush administration still has not learned that power alone is not strength. Military power is a great resource if you know how to use it. When your military is powerful, you can negotiate from a position of strength. But when you squander your military power, you deprive yourself of diplomatic leverage. This is what has happened in Iraq. We need to break this dynamic. We must use our redeployment to leverage others to make hard choices and assume responsibilities.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich
The U.S. should announce it will end the occupation, close military bases and withdraw our troops, which will help dampen the insurgency and set the stage for negotiations; use $70 billion in already-appropriated funds to bring the troops and necessary equipment home; order all U.S. contractors home and their work turned over to the Iraqi government; convene a regional conference to develop a security and stabilization force for Iraq under the auspices of the United Nations. Attendees should include the five permanent members of the Security Council, representatives of the European community and all Arab nations, and delegates from Iran; ask the U.N. to establish an international security and peacekeeping force and replace U.S. troops, a process likely to take at least three months; develop and fund national reconciliation in Iraq, beginning with a national conference, with the assistance of the U.N., to air grievances and create pathways toward open, transparent talks; restart the failed reconstruction program in Iraq; establish a program of significant reparations to Iraqis; stop all initiatives to privatize Iraqi oil interests or other national assets and establish an Iraqi National Oil Trust to guarantee the oil assets will be used to create a fully functioning infrastructure and to protect the oil wealth for the people of Iraq; stabilize Iraq’s cost for food and energy to preinvasion levels; work with the world community to restore Iraq’s fiscal integrity; and establish a policy of truth and reconciliation between the people of the United States and the people of Iraq.