What’s your Iraq strategy, Mr. President?

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.)

In early January I traveled to Iraq to asses firsthand the status of the war and the Iraqi government’s efforts to stabilize the situation. I spoke with top American and Iraqi leaders, and everyone agrees that we face an extraordinarily difficult situation.

But regardless of past mistakes, we cannot simply leave. As outlined in the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Report, the consequences of precipitous withdrawal would be disastrous and far outpace even the worst of what we’ve seen so far. However, I do not support a troop surge, which would prolong our efforts to put Iraqis in charge of security in Iraq.

At the same time, bashing the president and looking backward with hindsight’s 20/20 vision is not going to guide us toward a solution.

Because the stakes are so high, and the cost of failure so tremendous, I believe we’ll need a significant American presence in Iraq for several years, regardless of which party controls Congress and the White House.

As we’ve seen in the past, America cannot successfully fight a war that only one party supports.

In other words, to win over there, we need to unite over here. That’s why both political parties should look for common ground and identify areas of agreement from which we can move forward and build consensus.

I have urged the White House to invite Democrats to share their ideas, and I encourage serious critics of the war to offer positive ideas and suggestions about the way forward.

If we’ve learned nothing else, 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, and I encourage Americans of all political stripes to begin a sober and thoughtful conversation about how, working together, we can work toward a political equilibrium.

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts

Our strategy in Iraq must change. Our military mission, for the first time, must include securing the civilian population from violence and terror. It is impossible to defeat the insurgency without first providing security for the Iraqi people. Civilian security is the precondition for any political and economic reconstruction.

In consultation with Generals, military experts and troops who have served on the ground in Iraq, I believe securing Iraqi civilians requires additional troops. I support adding five brigades 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 the larger struggle against a global Jihadist movement. We must continue to confront these Jihadists through a combination of American resolve, international effort, and the rejection of violence by moderate, modern, mainstream Muslims. 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.

The road ahead will be difficult but success is still possible in Iraq. I believe it is in America’s national security interest to achieve it.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon)

In Iraq, America is adhering to a process that our nation has followed for the last 60 years to promote democracy and spread freedom throughout the world: first, we stand up a free government; then we stand up a military force capable of protecting that government; and lastly, we leave.

American forces are presently in the second phase of this three-step process, which requires that Iraq’s military be provided the training, basic equipment and operational experience it needs to mature into a fighting force capable of defending the interests of the Iraqi government and its people. President Bush’s newly announced strategy, referred to as the “Baghdad 3-to-1 Plan,” represents an innovative partnership of American and Iraqi military forces and should further serve as the template to help accelerate the transition of security responsibilities to Iraqis throughout the country.

This plan uses a combination of three Iraqi battalions and one U.S. backup battalion in a mentoring role, leveraging the unique ability of Iraq’s military to operate in an urban environment and amongst the Iraqi people. Americans will support these efforts with intelligence, special operations, firepower, logistics and precision strike capabilities.

I have recommended to the President that he replicate the 3-to-1 model throughout Iraq. Combined military operations will provide Iraq’s military force with invaluable combat experience and reinforce their confidence. Most importantly, the 3-to-1 plan allows U.S. commanders to evaluate the maturity of the Iraqi battalions first-hand and ascertain the correct timing for handing-off security responsibilities to Iraqi military forces.

The 129 Iraqi combat battalions that are currently trained and equipped should have to rotate through the “heart of battle” to gain combat experience. While the President’s new strategy rightly deploys nine additional Iraqi battalions into Baghdad, we must go further and ensure all Iraqi military forces participate in combat tours. This will not only battle harden Iraqi military units, but also reinforce civilian control of the military, solidify the chain of command and minimize provincial associations with military units.

Replicating this model across Iraq, however, is not dependent upon Iraq’s security forces fielding a full range of military capabilities. It requires only modestly trained soldiers who are adequately equipped with weapons, communications and transportation. Over time, Iraqis will develop more advanced capabilities as they fight alongside American forces, and they will continue developing well after U.S. forces leave.

Implementing this strategy throughout the entire country provides 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, the third and most important phase of the three step process that we have followed for more than 60 years will finally be realized.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas)

I advocate removing our troops from Iraq as soon as it is possible to do so safely. The specifics should be left to our military leaders on the ground. This war has lasted longer than World War II; American taxpayers can’t keep spending $8 billion per month to solve Iraq’s problems. The Iraqi government should assume the responsibility for defending and policing its own country. It is unwise to have an open-ended commitment of U.S. forces in Iraq.

It’s not a lack of training, weapons, or money that hinders our efforts to create a new, stable Iraqi government, including military forces and police. It’s the lack of local support for such an endeavor. Our policy explicitly prohibits developing borders and separating the various factions, which is the basic flaw in our plan for a forced, unified, western-style democracy in Iraq. Allowing self-determination for different regions may be the only way to erase the artificial nature of Iraq-- an Iraq designed by western outsiders nearly 80 years ago.

Don’t believe for a minute that additional congressional funding is needed so our troops can defend themselves or extricate themselves from the war zone. That’s nonsense. The Department of Defense has hundreds of billions of dollars in the pipeline available to move troops anywhere on earth-- including home.

The administration already has begun the surge in Iraq, sending additional troops, without any new appropriation from Congress. Funds are always available to put our troops into harms way; they are always available for leaving a war zone.

Rep Tancredo (R-Colo.)

We are at war with radical Islam. The overthrow of the Taliban in Afganistan was an important victory in that war. Removing Saddam from power and creating a democratic government in Iraq was another victory in that war. However the nature of the conflict there and our role in that conflict has changed. We now find ourselves acting as referees in what has become a civil war. I cannot see how, even if the “surge” is successful in temporarily pacifying Bagdad, we can in the long run consider our participation in this conflict as helpful in the global conflict against radical Islam. Our departure from this intra-party conflict will result in one of two possible scenarios. One is that the people of Iraq will step up to the plate and prove themselves capable of the challenge of democracy. The other is that the factions in Iraq (and the regional powers backing them) will continue to battle with one another for Middle East dominance. In either case, there are potential advantages for the U.S.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)

I opposed giving the President the broad, open-ended authority to wage this war in 2002 partly because I feared we would arrive at this point - the endless pursuit of an ill-defined victory in the midst of utter chaos.

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 themselves.

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 1st, with the goal of removing of all U.S. combat forces from Iraq by March 31st, 2008 - consistent with the expectations of the bipartisan Iraq study group.

If the Iraqis are successful in meeting the thirteen benchmarks for progress laid out by the Bush Administration, this plan also allows for the 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.

When it comes to the war in Iraq, the time for promises and assurances, for waiting and patience, is over. It is time to give Iraqis their country back. And it is time to refocus America’s efforts on the wider struggle against terror yet to be won.

John Edwards, former senator from North Carolina

It is time for real change in our Iraq policy. President Bush’s decision To adopt the McCain Doctrine and escalate the war in Iraq is terribly wrong. Since the President refuses to change course, Congress must use its power of the purse and block funding for an escalation of the war in Iraq. Over 84,000 people from across the country have joined me in calling on Congress to stop President Bush’s misguided plan. Congress has the power to stop this escalation - they should use it.

The situation in Iraq cannot be solved militarily - it demands a Political solution. The Iraqi people must take responsibility for their country, and escalating the war in Iraq sends the wrong message to the Iraqi people,to the region, and to the world.

The most important step we can take in Iraq is to turn responsibility over to Iraqis. We need to make it clear that we are leaving, and the best way to do that is to actually start leaving. For the past year, I have called on the Bush Administration and leaders in Congress to immediately withdraw 40,000 to 50,000 combat troops out of Iraq and ask our military leaders to come up with a strategy to have the rest of the combat troops out of Iraq over a period 12 to 18 months. We must restore America’s moral leadership in the world - and to do that, we must start leaving Iraq.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.)

I strongly believe the time has come for Congress to take meaningful action to stop the President’s plans to escalate our involvement in Iraq. As a co-equal branch of government, Congress must not simply sit back, fearful of taking actions that are in the interests of our country. A vote for a non-binding resolution must not be the end of Congressional efforts to reverse this failed policy.

Last month, I offered an amendment to the Biden-Hagel-Levin resolution, capping the number of troops in Iraq, and requiring the President to seek a new authorization from Congress prior to any future troop increases –an authorization I would vigorously oppose.

Every American should be able to know whether his or her Senator is prepared to go further and attempt to legally bind the President from continuing this policy of folly. I will not be satisfied if the resolution we adopt is the last step this Congress takes to right the wrong that the President is perpetrating on our brave young men and women in uniform and on the American people as a whole. I will continue to find opportunities to bring binding legislation to a vote in the Senate so every American can know where we stand.

But stopping the escalation of U.S. forces should only be the first step of a broader plan to stabilize Iraq and bring our troops home. We must begin redeploying US forces away from urban areas where the sectarian conflict is greatest, to the borders and enclaves within Iraq and to elsewhere in the region. We must also engage Iraq’s neighbors diplomatically to help Iraqis come together.

This will enable US forces to concentrate on training Iraqi forces, securing Iraq’s borders, and conducting counterterrorism operations to protect vital US security interests in the region.

When the quest for consensus paralyzes Congress and prevents us from taking real action to stop the senseless death of our troops, I refuse to stay silent.

Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico

We cannot solve Iraq’s political crisis with military force. We must re-deploy 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.

As long as our military is bleeding in Iraq, we lack the diplomatic leverage to accomplish this. We need to break this logic by getting our troops out, so that we can negotiate with others from a position of strength. We must use our redeployment to leverage others to make hard choices and assume responsibilities.

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 you 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.

Iraq is also a terrible distraction from the real war against the real terrorists who attacked America on 9-11. Every day that our troops remain stuck in the middle of Iraq’s civil war, they also are not available to protect America from Al Qaeda. Every day our army and marines are tied down in Iraq, they are not available for essential tasks such as reinforcing the stretched NATO forces in Afghanistan. Every day our National Guard troops are in Iraq, they are not at home where they are needed for homeland security. Every week we spend $2 billion in Iraq we don’t spend that money to defend our ports, our transportation networks and our cities.

A phased re-deployment over the next year will give diplomacy a real chance, and will enable us to redirect our resources to the real war against Jihadist terrorism.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio)

As the only Presidential candidate who has voted against every Iraq war measure since the beginning – the original authorization and every funding appropriation since – it’s not necessary for me to fumble for explanations, regrets, or apologies. This great nation, its people, and its brave sons and daughters deserve good judgment and foresight from their leaders, not retrospective excuses.

From that perspective, I offer the following plan (

1. The U.S. announces it will end the occupation, close military bases and withdraw our troops. This will help dampen the insurgency and set the stage for negotiations towards peaceful settlement.

2. The U.S. announces that it will use $70 billion in already appropriated funds to bring the troops and necessary equipment home. That cost has been estimated at $7 billion or less.

3. Order a simultaneous return of all U.S. contractors to the United States and turn over all contracting work to the Iraqi government. The contracting process should be investigated by Congressional committees and federal grand juries.

4. Convene a regional conference to develop a security and stabilization force for Iraq under the auspices of the UN, including the five permanent members of the Security Council, the European community, and all Arab nations, including Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.

5. Ask the UN to establish an international security and peacekeeping force to move in and replace U.S. troops, a process likely to take at least three months.

6. Develop and fund a process of national reconciliation, beginning with a national conference with the assistance of the UN to air grievances and create pathways toward open, transparent talks.

7. Restart the failed reconstruction program in Iraq. Rebuild roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, and other public facilities, houses, and factories with jobs and job training going to local Iraqis.

8. Establish a program of significant reparations to the people of Iraq for the loss of lives, physical and emotional injuries, and damage to property. There should be special programs to rescue the tens of thousands of Iraqi orphans from lives of destitution.

9. 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.

10. Stabilize Iraq’s cost for food and energy, on par with what they were before the US invasion and occupation.

11. Work with the world community to restore Iraq’s fiscal integrity without structural readjustment measures of the IMF or the World Bank.

12. Establish a policy of truth and reconciliation between the people of the United States and the people of Iraq.