The United States invaded Iraq in March 2003. Since then, nearly 4,000 American troops have lost their lives and nearly thirty thousand more have suffered serious injuries, while as many as a million Iraqis may be dead. The financial costs of the war to the U.S. economy will ultimately exceed $3 trillion. More than a year ago, the American public demanded a new direction in Iraq by electing a new Congress, and the bipartisan Iraq Study Group (the Baker-Hamilton Commission) presented a set of recommendations for just such a new direction. President Bush rejected the majority of those recommendations and proceeded - largely unchecked by Congress - on a course explicitly contrary to them.
Since that time, the current administration and its congressional allies have continued to use shifting rationales for extending our military involvement in Iraq with no end in sight. The American public has been presented with a set of false choices: a semi-permanent military occupation of Iraq versus a precipitous and destabilizing withdrawal. There is a deepening public desire for a new path forward and a cohesive military, diplomatic, and economic strategy that will end the war in Iraq while protecting American interests.
There are two strategic questions raised by our current dilemma:
How do we bring American military engagement in Iraq to a responsible end?
There is no military solution to the problems faced in Iraq: the real progress that can be made requires diplomatic, political, and economic means. We must stop counter-productive military operations by U.S. occupation forces and end our military presence in Iraq.
How do we prevent a repeat of the mistakes we've made?
The breakdown of checks and balances in our government led to bad decision-making which damaged America's national security. Ending this war and preventing future situations like it requires that we restore these Constitutional checks and balances and fix the ways in which our governmental, military, and civil institutions have failed us.
Discussions of Iraq in the media have focused almost entirely on military operations and issues, but any real solution will require us to look at a broader set of problems. Beyond redeploying our troops, we must place equal importance on applying the full arsenal of non-military tools at our disposal. The American public must also re-engage in the discussions and decision-making about how to proceed.
What follows is a series of objectives that, taken together, refocus our current military involvement in the region while repairing damage to the U.S. to prevent a repeat of our mistakes. We have included some sample legislation currently in Congress to show that these objectives have been identified and can be addressed given sufficient political will. We have also included recommendations that the Baker-Hamilton Commission published in the Iraq Study Group Report. In some cases, no existing legislation or clear recommendations exist and new authorizing legislation plus careful planning would be required.
Supporters of this document have committed to these objectives. The American people do not need to wait for a new Congress and new administration to pursue this agenda: public pressure on our current elected officials to act can help us move in the right direction even before January 2009, when we hope a new presidential administration and a new Congress will avail themselves of the opportunity to address the great challenges we face as a nation. We are aware that facts on the ground will change moving forward, and the legislation is included just to show that a responsible end to the war is possible given the political will.
As circumstances on the ground change, what is required of our response may change as well; consequently, we will be updating information on this and other legislation at www.responsibleplan.com.
End U.S. military action in Iraq:
There is no military solution in Iraq. Our current course unacceptably holds U.S. strategic fortunes hostage to events in Iraq that are beyond our control; we must change course. Using diplomatic, political, and economic power, we can responsibly end the war and remove all of our troops from Iraq.
Using U.S. diplomatic power:
Much of the remaining work to be completed in Iraq requires the effective use of diplomatic power. Many of Iraq's neighbors are currently contributing to instability and need to be persuaded to assist instead in stabilization.
Addressing humanitarian concerns:
The humanitarian crisis caused by Iraq's situation is destabilizing to the region and damaging to America's moral credibility. We must both take responsibility for the Iraqis who are now endangered because of their assistance to the U.S. and begin to address the regional problems of displaced Iraqis.
Restoring our Constitution:
Many mistakes were made in the course of this war, and our systems of checks and balances have failed us at critical moments. To prevent repeating those mistakes, we must repair the underlying Constitutional framework of our republic and provide checks to executive authority. Balance must be restored between the executive and the judicial branch (for instance through the restoration of habeas corpus), between the executive and the legislative branch (for instance through clarifying that the President does not have the Constitutional authority to unilaterally alter legislation through signing statements), and between the executive and the people of the United States (for instance by clarifying that the Fourth Amendment requires probable cause and a warrant for the government to spy on Americans).
Restoring our military:
Repairing the damage done to our military will require reforms in contracting procedures, restoring benefits for members of the military and veterans, and investment in repairing or replacing damaged military equipment.
The need for contracting reform is substantial. Private militias have direct incentives to prolong the conflict rather than resolve it; their use needs to be phased out. Contractors must be legally accountable for their actions. War profiteering must be stopped, and those who have engaged in it need to answer for their actions.
The safety of our men and women in uniform requires that we adhere to international standards with respect to treatment of prisoners. We must also make it clear that the United States does not torture, and that we do not send people to other places to be tortured, either.
The military is having substantial difficulty with recruiting and retention; we could begin to help by delivering on more of the promises the original Montgomery G.I. Bill made and by delivering on our promises regarding healthcare for veterans.
Restoring independence to the media:
The consolidation of our news media into the control of a relatively few corporate entities stifled a full and fair discussion and debate around Iraq. A more robust debate could be encouraged by expanding access to media.
Creating a new, U.S.-centered energy policy:
Finally, we are clearly tied to Iraq through our dependence on oil, which makes us vulnerable. Moving away from that dependence is necessary for strategic, economic, and environmental reasons.