Seeking to keep pace with public opinion, key Democratic leaders will soon be considering a peace initiative including full withdrawal from Iraq, revision of the United Nations authorization, and a diplomatic offensive to engage other countries in assisting Iraq.
The proposal represents a sharp difference with the Iraq Study Group - and current Democratic - suggestion that combat troops be withdrawn by next spring while leaving tens of thousands of American troops to train the Iraqi armed forces. The notion of "training" a largely-dysfunctional and sectarian Iraqi army, in the absence of a sweeping overhaul of the Baghdad government, is viewed increasingly as unrealistic. The pressure of the anti-war movement and restless public opinion is also propelling these strategists to recommend a stronger withdrawal position than the Congressional majority and presidential candidates currently are taking.
The position of the Bush White House is unpredictable but Pentagon generals in Iraq are calling for a much lengthier counter-insurgency campaign and the brokering of a South Korean-style outcome in Iraq. Not only does this scenario appear fanciful on the ground, but it might doom any supportive candidates in the 2008 election. That would position the uncompromising hardliners to blame the Democrats for "losing" Iraq in the 2012 election cycle.
The new thinking will be reflected in a coming report from the Center for American Progress [CAP], a think tank led by former White House chief of staff John Podesta. CAP's previous two reports have had significant impacts on Congressional thinking, especially on the Democratic side. The CAP proposal is expected to go beyond their previous recommendations for redeployment of American combat forces over a 12-to-18 month period. The new emphasis will be on sharply cutting back the American training program, perhaps to those needed to protect a diplomatic presence.
The proposal for full withdrawal would be accompanied by a rewriting of the UN authorization to one enlisting the international community to help stabilize Iraq as American troops pull out. Several countries have offered troops to fill such a security vacuum but only on the condition that the US announces that its forces leave.
The new thinking rejects the unconvincing mantra that the US troops will "stand down" when the Iraqis "stand up". The new realism starts from the premise that the US, whatever the intention, has fostered, trained, equipped and armed a majority-Shi's sectarian state whose security ministries are riddled with militias engaged in brutal repression, torture, ethnic cleansing and even death squad activities. Under these conditions, it is deeply unlikely that the current regime will liberalize itself or meet the benchmarks set forth recently by Congress. Who will the US troops be "training" then?
What is unclear in the proposal being circulated is the role envisioned for the Baghdad regime itself. The new thinking presumes that the announcement of a US withdrawal plan is the only way to jolt the present regime out of its dependency on the South Korean model, and instead seek a new UN authorization and possibly troops from Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Jordan or elsewhere. But another possibility is that the White House and the generals may stage a Baghdad coup leading to a "strongman" model consistent with the long-term counter-insurgency plan. Still another alternative, not embraced by anyone so far, would be to accept the majority sentiment in the Iraqi parliament for a US withdrawal timetable. In this scenario, the US could arrange to be thanked and asked to leave, perhaps even with red carpets.
Changing the current paradigm dominating the media and most Democrats will not be an easy matter, however. It will take place in the form of internal presentations and dialogues over the summer months, with results expected by September at the latest. Currently the presidential candidates and Congressional leaders are locked into the model that only combat troops may be leaving, sooner or later, while other troops will be left behind to fight al-Qaeda, train the Iraqis, guard the embassy and visiting dignitaries, and hunker down on a smaller number of bases.
The inherent problems with this model are that the resilient Iraqi insurgency won't allow it, that the "sovereign Iraqi government" is mostly fiction, and where it is real it has become deeply sectarian. Further, the peace forces within the Democratic Party, and among the larger rank-and-file of the American voting mainstream, will not stand for a recycling of the politics of failure in 2008.
The persistent pressure of the peace movement is having an effect, though more slowly than the morality and patience of many can bear. With the presidential primaries only six months away, the process inevitably will accelerate, with the outcome increasingly depending on the peace forces in the early primary states and those in closely-contested districts. #
Tom Hayden is a former state senator and leader of Sixties peace, justice and environmental movements. He currently teaches at PitzerCollege in Los Angeles. His books include The Port Huron Statement [new edition], Street Wars and The Zapatista Reader. His most recent book is Ending the War in Iraq.
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