10/09/2007 07:20 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Iraq: Just Criticizing Is Not An Option

When the toll of the repercussions of the Bush administration's missteps and failures finally gets tallied up, one item on that long list will surely have be that too often Democrats and progressives were so purblind with justifiable anger that we allowed sputtering denunciations to take the place of thoughtful solutions.

In no area is this more true than in dealing with the war in Iraq - a war whose costs and casualties are so grievous were so clearly avoidable. But though it was neoconservative ideas that led America blundering into this conflict, it is apparent that it is going to take progressives to clean up the toxic mess that will be left over.

Unfortunately, Iraq is one of the subjects where the country is way ahead of politicians in both parties. Washington is still debating what Americans have already decided: that a real drawdown of troops is coming.

Yet, the current political debate is preoccupied with issues of when those troops will be withdrawn, how they will be redeployed, and where they will be sent. Regardless of how these questions are answered, this much is sure: American troops are coming home from Iraq. The question is, "What do we do the day after?"

Progressives cannot simply argue that the war should end and then look no further than the end of this tragedy. Fingers can be pointed and blame can be placed at the feet of the Bush administration, but the war in Iraq is not a Republican problem it is America's problem and determining the way forward is the responsibility of us all.

So after our troops come home, what should American strategy be in the Middle East? There are no easy answers, but President Bush and his neoconservatives don't even appear to be trying to tackle the question. As progressives, we have a responsibility to do better, to not just oppose whatever this Republican president and the next Republican nominee put forth, but to develop our own vision.

In order to begin that process, Democracy: A Journal of Ideaswent to some of the brightest foreign policy thinkers from across the progressive spectrum and asked them: After Iraq, what next?

Their answers may surprise you. Some said we need to restore America's reputation for positive leadership--the reputation has been so badly damaged by the current administration. Others argued that the key is combating nuclear proliferation. These experts passionately advocated for a new "Freedom Agenda," a rededication to promoting liberal democracy, and a renewed commitment to the core American principles of justice and fairness, which will mean immediately abolishing Guantanamo, junking the Cheney doctrine, and indicting Al Qaeda leaders for war crimes. Still others explained why we need to engage Iran or talk to Turkey. To read the entire "After Iraq" symposium, click here.

When it comes to Iraq, there are bad options, and then there are worse options. I know that the Republican solutions are going to be worse--Mitt Romney's pledge to "double Guantanamo" comes to mind. That said, we can't be dominated by our opposition to the right wing. After years of trying, we've finally gotten Americans to hear our critique of the Bush administration. Now, Americans are waiting to hear about our plans to lead.