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A Plan for a Cease-Fire in Iraq

By Brent Budowsky
December 18, 2005

Editor’s Note: Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean came under an avalanche of criticism for saying that “the idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is just plain wrong.” Republicans immediately accused Democrats of being “defeatist,” as George W. Bush reiterated his demand for “complete victory.”

But is there a route that brings the war to a conclusion while avoiding recriminations about “defeat” or unrealistic notions of “victory”? Is there a way for the killing to stop in Iraq while politicians save enough “face” to stop acting as obstacles? To help spark this debate about whether a cease-fire is possible, we are publishing a guest essay from former Democratic congressional staffer Brent Budowsky.

Leading Democrats should propose and President Bush should initiate a plan to win the war in Iraq beginning with a comprehensive cease-fire, in return for all-Iraqi participation in the new government, amnesty for insurgents who lay down their arms to join the democratic process, multilateral diplomatic and economic support for economic opportunity in post-cease-fire Iraq, and an unconditional military victory over foreign terrorists and jihadists led by aggressive and politically savvy Special Forces and U.S. Marine Corps and active-duty Army.

The path to victory in Iraq is for President Bush and Democratic leaders to reflect on how President Kennedy learned from the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, took full personal responsibility, and applied the political and military lessons to achieve a world-saving triumph in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Reasonable people can disagree about time lines for withdrawal and force size for American presence, but these are the wrong questions that inevitably lead to the wrong answers. 

What is needed is a policy that clearly unites America with the aspirations of the Iraqi people, who oppose the aspects of a lumbering and overbearing American occupation, but who deeply hold aspirations for peace, justice, hope, dignity and the economic and human dreams that motivate people everywhere.

The centerpiece for American policy should be a series of policies that begin with a cease-fire that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis would applaud, clear political overtures and economic and civic inducements for Iraqi parties to compromise with a pluralistic and democratic spirit, and hard, real, and substantial incentives for indigenous Iraqi insurgents to accept peace and participate in freedom.

The clear strategy of this plan would be a victory in Iraq using political, diplomatic and aspirational weapons to end the domestic war pitting Iraqi against Iraqi which would not only dramatically lower the violence, but would also dramatically enhance economic and human reconstruction. 

This clear strategy for a political end to the Iraqi-Iraqi war would pave the way for a sustainable policy, backed by the overwhelming majority of both parties in the United States and across the board among people in Iraq, for an outright and aggressive military victory against foreign jihadist terrorists that would accept only total defeat, complete destruction and final elimination of foreigners whose only purpose in Iraq is to promote terrorism and inflict death on Sunnis, Shi'as, Kurds and Americans alike.

Democrats can propose and the President can announce this plan in very short order, with the very clear and achievable goal of winning in Iraq through political solutions that end Iraqi against Iraqi fighting and through military solutions destroying foreign terrorists who would then be virtually unanimously rejected by Iraqis who want their dreams fulfilled but do not want to have their death tolls used by foreign terrorists as nothing more than petty cash in a war that Iraqis do not share, will not support, and would unite in banishing from Iraq in the face of a prosperous peace that would lift members of all factions and groups of Iraqis for Iraq.

The President could announce this preemptive strike to win the battle of ideas immediately, calling for a comprehensive cease-fire among Iraqis, laying out conditions he believes are essential for the plan to succeed, offering generous economic programs that would come into effect upon agreement of an all-Iraqi  cease-fire and sending the Secretary of State to Europe, the Gulf States, the United Nations and the World Bank to develop visionary and bold new programs for opportunity and hope that would come into effect upon a comprehensive all-Iraqi cease-fire.

The road to victory, consensus and success begins with a hard recognition that a policy for victory must begin with two things that wartime Presidents have always done, and President Bush has failed to do. War must never be a tool for partisan politicians demeaning, attacking, slandering and dividing each other. And war policy, to succeed, must unite not only the people of our country, but what Thomas Jefferson called the decent opinion of mankind, an opinion we ignore at our peril when our Nation is at war.

Democrats, liberals, opponents of the war must likewise recognize and act on two equally important facts. In election after election, the people of Iraq, who have suffered unendurable brutality under Saddam Hussein and enormous personal risks by acting to cast their vote, have raised their inked fingers with honor and pride and defied death to register their belief in freedom at the polls.

And, at a time when our country is so divided, when the policy is under such debate and when instead of “we are in this together” we have almost all of the sacrifice endured by only a few hundred thousand of our troops, we should not only respect and honor their bravery and service but listen to what they are telling us, as best they can, while they are under fire.

Whether this war is right or wrong, those who serve in the greatest danger and assume almost all of the personal risk, overwhelmingly believe in the mission though undoubtedly not every tactic or policy. No doubt every night the troops return to barracks and debate the issues as we do, though with far more respect and, yes, love for each other, a lesson both parties can learn greatly from at home. But Americans on all sides of the issue should hear them when they tell us, with a strong majority voice, that they fundamentally believe in the mission, so while domestic recruitment suffers the retention rate for troops serving in Iraq is surprisingly high.

A strategic policy to achieve victory through political solutions among Iraqis, and military victory against foreign terrorists, would not be easy, but it can be done, supporting unity among people, making a compelling stand to win the battle of ideas within Iraq and worldwide and creating a policy that could be sustained for as long as it takes to win.

The political strategy would be far more bold, visionary, generous and far-sighted. The military strategy would lead to far fewer casualties among Americans and Iraqis alike; it would move away from a war that looks far too much like an imperial occupation to average Iraqis, and far more like the Special Forces war against terrorists that would seek the death of our mortal enemies, with whom negotiation is impossible, in a way that would rally far more of the hearts, minds, souls and spirits of the people whose support we need to win on political, military and intelligence fronts.

In such a war, we would have a real chance to achieve political victory where we can, military victory where we must, and a major reconfiguration of American forces in Iraq that would expedite the withdrawal of our guard and reserve forces who have given so much, with greater emphasis on aggressive Special Forces, Army and Marines with far more successful use of hard military assets and far more enlightened victory in the battle of ideas that is so essential to victory in any war of counter-insurgency.

One final point, last but far from least. Because of the heroic efforts of John McCain, who has demonstrated the kind of vision and moral integrity many of us wish had come sooner from all conservatives and Republicans, and the courage that many of us wish had come sooner from Democratic leaders, our country and the President have initiated a new spirit and beginning of human rights and human dignity in our treatment of prisoners.

America must never again be a nation that debates secret prisons, torture chambers by any name, rampant abuse and we must never be reduced to the morally unacceptable argument that our Abu Ghraib is less bad than Saddam Hussein's Abu Ghraib. The entire debate has become a stain on our national honor, a defamation of our national character, destructive to our self-esteem, our credibility and reputation around the world, our efforts to win the war, and the interests of our troops, commanders and privates alike, who, by overwhelming majorities, want these abuses to stop, as do the vast majority of intelligence interrogators and officers.

Mr. President, please, make this only the beginning, and take the lead in terms that will let our freedom ring throughout the world and among all Iraqis. Give Senator McCain your power of attorney and heed every word of advice he offers, because he has your interest, America's interest, our troops interest and freedoms interest at heart. You will not be surrendering power by so doing, you will be empowering yourself as commander in chief and rallying the hearts and conscience of every man and women who wears our flag on their arms, or in their heart.

Why not appoint a Special Presidential adviser such as someone like Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who would have moral stature and power among lovers of freedom and justice everywhere, to look at all of these prisoner issues abroad and civil liberties issues at home and offer advice that would well serve our legacy in history, our national self-confidence and world-wide moral stature, and the interests of our troops.

If the President would appoint someone of the stature of Justice O'Connor and says the McCain Amendment is only the beginning of a new day, there would be standing ovations across the aisles in Congress, rallying applause in the capitals of democracy everywhere and lifted hearts among friends of freedom around the world.

We can win the war in Iraq, if we remember that we are in this together, if we remember who we are as a nation, if we have clear goals about achieving political victories where possible and military victories where necessary. We can and must appeal to the aspirations of good people who will support us not as occupiers but as liberators, as we win the battle of ideas to rally our friends and appeal to the undecided, while we kill the true enemies of America with whom negotiation is not an option, and failure is not an option, either.


Brent Budowsky is a former legislative assistant to U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, and legislative director to Rep. Bill Alexander, D-Ark., when he was chief deputy majority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives. He can be reached by e-mail at brentbbi@webtv.net.


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