Democratic Quagmire

LAST WEEK, IF YOU went to www.john and followed the links to discover Kerry's thoughts on Iraq, you would finally reach the prompt: "What is Kerry's plan to win the peace in Iraq? Read here."

Clicking the link took you back to Kerry's home page.

Kerry's Web team inadvertently captured perfectly the problem Iraq presents to the nine major Democratic presidential hopefuls. All agree that President Bush has made a mess of things. But they've been so busy harping on Dubya's failures that few of us have any idea what any of them would do. There's this nagging suspicion that they don't know what they'd do. Ask, and they're likely to send you back to their home page: "Bush bad. Me good."

The reality is that no matter how flawed Bush's reasons for invading Iraq, the invasion happened. No matter how poorly planned the occupation has been, the U.S. still controls Iraq. No matter how corrupt the no-bid reconstruction projects have been, contracts are being signed and fortunes are being made. And no matter how absurd the mandate of American soldiers is, the bombs, grenades, bullets, and homemade mortars being fired at them are deadly, and the weapons they're firing back are deadlier still.

IF EVER THERE were a time this country needed to set aside sound-bite politics and have a serious discussion of what to do next, this would be it.

Dream on. John Kerry, John Edwards, and Howard Dean all want to "win the peace." (Who, exactly, would then lose the peace?) Only a few of the candidates' official Web sites offer anything substantive regarding Iraq's future. Along with all the ills of our once-popular president, we learn that:

*Wesley Clark, whose candidacy is entirely a consequence of his gravitas on military affairs, says we have to define our exit strategy. However, he doesn't offer one himself. Clark gained public prominence by analyzing the invasion for CNNbut isn't analyzing the occupation in nearly as much detail. He's not alone.

*Howard Dean, the likeliest nominee as a result of grassroots support for his antiwar stance, teaches us that America must lead the world, not oppose the world. His foreign policy specifics? He'd create an alliance among governments and people everywhere. Cool. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

*Sen. John Edwards supported the invasion but thinks the U.S. "cannot rebuild Iraq alone." You read it here first. He voted against Dubya's $87 billion Iraq billas did Kerrybut Edwards does not want the U.S. to withdraw. Huh?

*The site for Richard Gephardt's labor-centric presidential bid lists positions on 29 issues, of which only two relate to foreign affairs at all: "International minimum wage" and "Working with Israel." No war on terror, no Iraq, nothing on all that military spending. It's the economy, stupid.

*Dennis Kucinich appears to be the only candidate actually calling for the U.S. to withdraw troops and let the United Nations take overwhich is not only what much of the Democratic Party would prefer but much of Iraq, too.

*Joseph "Ariel" Lieberman wants "the world to work together immediately to appoint an international administrationpossibly led by a qualified Arab official, and an international security force to oversee Iraq's reconstruction and transition to democratic self-rule." No word on why Joe thinks an Arab would qualify, or whether he knows that Arabs and Iraqis hate each other, too.

*Carol Moseley Braun says our troops need more resources"even supplies"and hopes that funds from other countries will "allow us, within the tradition of U.S. command and control over our own forces, allow us [sic] to extricate ourselves with honor but continue a viable war on terrorism that gets bin Laden and his pals."

*Al Sharpton urges you to register to vote.

EXCEPTING KUCINICH, who has raised hundreds of dollars, none of Dubya's would-be replacements is challenging the Bush administration's fundamental premise that the U.S. intends to call the shots in Iraq (literally) for a long time to come. None is addressing the specifics of how to alleviate the dire status of U.S. soldiers, or the even more dire reality facing ordinary Iraqis.

Perhaps American politics can't support such detail; maybe it really is all about image and leadership and judgment and (especially) personality. But like it or not, George Bush has a clear plan for Iraq: Loot it bare, shoot anything that moves, and eventually install pliant puppets to oversee the survivors. It's grim, but it's simple and concrete.

Democrats like Clark, Kerry, Dean, Gephardt, and Lieberman need to not only criticize Bush and each other, they need to propose ideas that they believe would work better.

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