Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Lagniappe: What Kerry's Iraq Policy Should Be - Much has been made about the absence of a clear Iraq policy from the Kerry campaign. For instance, Andrew Sullivan points out that, even though the Bush Iraq policy leaves much to be desired, it's better than Kerry's non-policy. Well, I've been thinking about this criticism and I'd like to suggest a win-win strategy for Kerry that allows him to stay true to his liberal principles, to appease the anti-war crowd, and to work towards a more stable and democratic Iraq. How is this possible? Well, consider this ...

First, Kerry must emphasize that this war was not of his making. He will inherit it if he wins in November. He doesn't even need to criticize the Bush Administration for leading us into war. He just needs to accept the reality as a given that requires firm, decisive leadership. Furthermore, he should emphasize the need for greater engagement in Iraq (albeit using the language of peace policy as opposed to war policy) instead of disengagement, for which Bush is taking the heat from his pro-war conservative base (i.e. the abdication of Fallujah). He can and should frame this engagement as a moral obligation resulting from an ill-advised war. In other words, if he argues to the American people that the U.S. has a special obligation to nation-rebuilding in Iraq because of its role in nation-destruction, he rides the moral high ground. He can say that the situation in Iraq is messy, but that we can't just up and leave it that way out of a sense of humanitarian concern and just compensation for the destruction inflicted on the people and land of Iraq. If I were Kerry, I'd promise to seek even additional funding from Congress to support nation-building enterprises that include civic reconstruction projects as well as greater security and defense forces by promising more boots on the ground. He can use this need for greater resources to repeal the more unpopular aspects of the Bush tax cuts that seem to disproportionately benefit the wealthy. In the meantime, he can use this leverage to generate funding from the repeals of these parts of the tax cut package to finance his domestic policy proposals as well, while still working towards a balanced budget. What does Kerry gain domestically from this strategy? He gains sympathy from liberal supporters at home of the humanitarian mission in Iraq, he gains support from those who think greater security in Iraq will come from a larger contingent of soldiers on the ground, and if he liberalizes the occupation by multilateralizing it as he promises in ways that don't jeopardize the U.S. independence for action, he will elicit broader international support and participation for Iraqi reconstruction.

All Kerry has to do is to demonstrate how he will throw the U.S. more fully into post-war nation-building (and he can do this by outlining specific programs to influence civic and political culture towards democracy at the grass-roots), develop a realistic timeline and concrete benchmarks for small, but steady progress, and explain a firm commitment to a gradual de-militarization of the occupation.

What risks does this strategy run? Well, it runs the risk of having to deal with a disruptive resistance that will settle for nothing less than complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq ... but how is that different than what we have now? It also runs the risks of losing control and authority that come with decentralization and multilateralization. But that is a risk that I think will produce more of a "peace" dividend that the current unilateralism is able to accomplish.

In the end, I think a more engaged, humanitarian phase of nation-building is the ticket for Kerry. The GOP's contribution is the hawkishness that made for an impressive conventional military victory. But that moment is spent and the GOP is on unfamiliar territory in the post-war reconstruction phase. This is precisely the phase where the Democrats have something to offer. The trick is in not abandoning the new and potentially democratic Iraq, but embracing it and nurturing it more fully and more peacefully.

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