With the most important debate of the whole year (and possibly the whole war) teed up and ready to begin in Congress in the next few weeks, I thought it would be a good time to do a summary and analysis of what all the Democratic candidates have to say on the subject of Iraq. Many of these candidates, it should be noted, are still sitting Senators and Representatives, and therefore have both the duty and the responsibility to participate in the debate in Congress.
They should be relishing the opportunity, since it will be a rare chance to show actual, tangible leadership. Which is definitely a requirement for the job of President of the United States.
But to be fair to all the candidates in the race (even the ones not currently in Congress), I hereby present a comparison of each candidate's position on Iraq. These were all taken directly from their web pages, where they each have an "Issues" page on the subject.
The last time I reviewed the candidates I put them in alphabetical order by last name. This time (to be fair), I present them in reverse alphabetical order. Today we look at Richardson, Obama, Kucinich, and Gravel. Tomorrow the comparison continues with Edwards, Dodd, Clinton, and Biden.
The links above the excerpted text for each candidate take you directly to their Iraq "Issues page."
Bill Richardson is one of the most consistent voices in the Democratic campaign on Iraq. He not only wants to begin withdrawing troops, he wants them all out in six months. All of them. This is significant because many of the other candidates refuse to give an honest answer to the question: How many troops would you leave behind, and for how long? Richardson does so admirably.
He lays out his 7 point plan on his website, in an attempt to answer every question about how exactly we should get out of Iraq. This is also significant, because many of the candidates' websites are severely lacking in details, instead merely hitting broad generalities. Richardson tells you exactly what he wants to do on Iraq, in enough detail to answer your questions but not with so much minutiæ that your eyes glaze over. He seems to have struck a perfect balance on how to address the issue.
On the down side, his website has a page on it which compares (favorably, of course) Richardson's ideas on Iraq with other Democratic candidates. But he doesn't compare himself to Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel -- which seems rather petty of him, since Richardson is not exactly a frontrunner either. But perhaps he didn't want a true comparison to all the competition, since Kucinich and Gravel could in some ways be seen as more anti-war than Richardson.
One other minor criticism is that his information is slightly out of date. We are now spending $10 billion per month in Iraq.
From Richardson's website:
The Iraq War is costing Americans $8 billion each month. By implementing my plan to de-authorize the war and withdraw ALL troops in six months, we can start redirecting these funds toward what matters most for Americans: improving education, expanding access to quality health care, and addressing the REAL security threats like the Taliban, nuclear proliferation, and global warming. My seven-point 'New Realism' plan for Iraq describes in detail what is required.
The 7 Point Plan for Iraq
[Editor's Note: these are only excerpts from each of Richardson's "points."]
De-Authorize the War Now
Congress should immediately assert its constitutional authority and pass a resolution de-authorizing the war under Article I of the US Constitution and the War Powers Act.
Troops Out in Six Months
I believe we can withdraw all the troops within six months of de-authorization, but if it takes a few months longer the key is to get them all out as soon as humanly possible.
No Residual Forces Left Behind
We must remove ALL of our troops. There should be no residual US forces left in Iraq.
Promote Iraqi Reconciliation
We should promote an Iraqi Reconciliation Conference to bring the factions together to seek compromises and to begin confidence-building measures, including the end of militia violence.
Work With All Neighbors and Allies
We should convene a regional conference to secure the cooperation of all of Iraq's neighbors -- including Syria and Iran -- in promoting peace and stability.
Global Cooperation in Reconstruction
We should convene a donor conference to fund Iraq's reconstruction.
Redeploy to Address Real Threats
We must redeploy some of our troops to Afghanistan to stop the resurgence of the Taliban and to fight the real terrorists who attacked this country on 9-11.
Obama's website has improved somewhat since the first time I reviewed it. The text on Iraq has been fleshed out a bit more, and he has a transcript of a speech on the subject for you to download, if you'd like more information. What he has to say (below) sounds good, but when you get to the final paragraph he seems to be hedging his bets a little. This seems to be a political calculation to give himself some breathing room on the subject, in case conditions on the ground in Iraq change next year during the election.
This is kind of a shame, coming from Obama. It has the whiff of "handlers" in the background, testing timid phraseology on focus groups. This really should be Obama's signature issue by far, since among the three frontrunners he is the only one who can truthfully state: "I was against the Iraq war from the beginning."
I keep waiting for him to make this a central theme of his campaign, to differentiate himself from Edwards and Clinton, but he seems to still be only gingerly testing the waters. When he really should be out in front of the pack, and leading the other candidates on this issue.
Another example of timidity is the fact that his main Iraq plan is from 2005, and he seems not to have had any bold ideas on Iraq since January of this year. This is pretty backward-looking, since (remember) Obama is still a sitting Senator. This says something about his ability to get out in front of an issue that is coming up for debate in the Senate in the next few weeks. His text also appears to be inaccurate (or perhaps just outdated) -- as he talks about "13 benchmarks," but there are actually 18 benchmarks the White House is about to report on.
From Obama's website (this is the full text of his main statement on Iraq):
Before the war in Iraq ever started, Senator Obama said that it was wrong in its conception. In 2002, then Illinois State Senator Obama said Saddam Hussein posed no imminent threat to the United States and that invasion would lead to an occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. Since then, Senator Obama has laid out a plan on the way forward in Iraq that has largely been affirmed by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton.
At the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations in November 2005, Senator Obama called for: (1) a reduction in the number of U.S. troops; (2) a time frame for a phased withdrawal; (3) the Iraqi government to make progress on forming a political solution; (4) improved reconstruction efforts to restore basic services in Iraq; and (5) engaging the international community, particularly key neighboring states and Arab nations, to become more involved in Iraq. In January 2006 he traveled to Iraq and met with senior U.S. military commanders, Iraqi officials and U.S. troops in Baghdad and Fallujah.
Senator Obama introduced legislation in January 2007 to offer a responsible alternative to President Bush's failed escalation policy. The legislation commences redeployment of U.S. forces no later than May 1, 2007 with the goal of removing all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008 -- a date consistent with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's expectations. The plan allows for a limited number of U.S. troops to remain in Iraq as basic force protection, to engage in counter-terrorism and to continue the training of Iraqi security forces. If the Iraqis are successful in meeting the 13 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.
Dennis Kucinich should really be the strongest and loudest voice on what to do about Iraq, but he seems to be having trouble getting his message out. And I am not referring to his lack of presence in the mainstream media, but instead to his own website.
The last time I went to view his site (a few weeks ago), either the whole site was just down, or they had failed to redirect older links to current pages to the new site (Kucinich's site, like many of the candidates' sites, undergoes periodic updates and redesigns).
But what is really inexcusable is the fact that you can't apparently get to his "plan for Iraq" from his site, at least as of this writing. He explains his Iraq stance on "page 1" of his Iraq Issues page, and then "page 2" is supposed to be the plan itself. But, as of this writing, that link to page 2 is broken -- it just takes you to the "sign up" introduction page to his main site. This does not fill me with confidence about the man's ability to run a campaign. Or a country, for that matter.
But, to be fair to Kucinich, while I don't have much to say about his plan (since I can't view it), I will include an extended excerpt from the speech he gave to introduce the plan back in January. Once again, I wonder why his website doesn't have more current information about his Iraq stance, when the biggest debate of the Iraq war is about to take place in Congress. Democratic candidates seem to be missing a great opportunity to show some real leadership here.
From Kucinich's website (from a 1/8/07 speech):
There are 140,000 troops remaining in Iraq right now. What about them? When will they come home? Why would we leave those troops in Iraq when we have the money to bring them home? Soon the President will ask for more money for the war. Why would Congress appropriate more money to keep the troops in Iraq through the end of President Bush's term, at a total cost of upwards of two trillion dollars and thousands of more troop casualties, when military experts say there is no military solution? Our soldiers stand for us in the field, we must to stand for them in our legislature by bringing them home.
It is simply not credible to maintain that one opposes the war and yet continues to fund it. This contradiction runs as a deep fault line through our politics, undermining public trust in the political process and in those elected to represent the people. If you oppose the war, then do not vote to fund it.
If you have money which can be used to bring the troops home or to prosecute the war, do not say you want to bring the troops home while you appropriate money in a supplemental to keep them in Iraq fighting a war that cannot be won militarily. This is why the Administration should be notified now that Congress will not approve of the appropriations request of up to $160 billion in the spring for the purposes of continuing the occupation and the war. Continuing to fund the war is not a plan. It would represent the continuation of disaster.
. . .
The US thinks in terms of solving our own military, strategic, logistical, and political problems. The US can determine how to solve our problems, but the Iraqi people will have problems far into the future. This requires an intensive focus on the processes needed to stabilize Iraq. If you solve the Iraqi problem you solve the US problem. Any comprehensive plan for Iraq must take into account as a primary matter the conditions and the needs of the Iraqi people, while providing our nation with a means of righting grievous wrongs and taking steps to regain US credibility and felicity within the world community.
I am offering such a plan today. This plan responds to the concerns of a majority of Americans. On Tuesday, when Congress resumes its work, I will present this plan to leadership and members as the only viable alternative to the Bush Administration's policy of continued occupation and escalation. Congress must know that it cannot and must not stand by and watch our troops and innocent Iraqi civilians die.
While Gravel's position is slightly less detailed than Richardson's, they are pretty similar. Gravel ups the ante, however, calling for troops to be completely withdrawn in about 4 months (120 days). Gravel takes a strong stand on ending America's involvement with the Iraq fiasco as soon as possible; and he even specifically says he'll also get American corporations out of the reconstruction business in Iraq and turn such efforts over to Iraqi companies -- which is a refreshing and tantalizing idea.
His statement is fairly up-to-date as well, since he explicitly mentions "over 3,300" American military deaths (the actual number is over 400 higher, but that's only a matter of a few months' worth of carnage).
His language is also very straightforward and direct -- we need to get out as soon as possible. He doesn't mince words, which is always nice to hear from a politician.
From Gravel's website (this is the entire text on his website for the issue of Iraq):
Senator Gravel's position on Iraq remains clear and consistent: to commence an immediate and orderly withdrawal of all U.S. troops that will have them home within 120 days. The sooner U.S. troops are withdrawn, the sooner we can pursue aggressive diplomacy to bring an end to the civil war that currently consumes Iraq. Senator Gravel seeks to work with neighboring countries to lead a collective effort to bring peace to Iraq.
One of the leading opponents of the Vietnam War, Senator Gravel was one of the first current or former elected officials to publicly oppose the planned invasion of Iraq in 2002. He appeared on MSNBC prior to the invasion insisting that intelligence showed that there were indeed no weapons of mass destruction, that Iraq posed no threat to the United States and that invading Iraq was against America's national interests and would result in a disaster of epic proportions for both the United States and the Iraqi people.
Today, more than four years into the invasion, the death toll of U.S. troops has climbed over 3,300 with over 50,000 more permanently maimed, some having lost limbs, others their sight. Tens of thousands more are afflicted with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and urgently need psychological care. The Iraqi civilian death toll nears three-quarters of a million, and still there remains no end in sight to the bloodshed.
As President, Senator Gravel will call for a U.S. corporate withdrawal from Iraq and hand over reconstruction contracts to Iraqi businesses which will empower Iraqi nationals to reconstruct their own country.
[Program Note: Part 2 of this article will run tomorrow on ChrisWeigant.com and will examine John Edwards, Chris Dodd, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden.]
[Slogan Contest Note: This Friday, here at Huffington Post, I'll be running another slogan contest. I think you'll like this one even better than last week's. Contest will run from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening. You have been warned!]