In the Washington Post yesterday, Dana Milbank wrote, "Political Washington is in a state of suspended animation these days…leaders of both parties seem unable to do much more than heap blame on Maliki and argue about whether or not to call the Iraq carnage a civil war."
Actually, that depends on which "leaders" Milbank is referring to.
There are detailed withdrawal plans available for consideration. Each one provides a framework for finding a way out of this disaster that has disintegrated into a humanitarian catastrophe. The Congressional Progressive Caucus – the largest caucus in Congress – met last week with George McGovern, co-author of the 142-page Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now. Written with former history professor and State Department Middle East expert, William R. Polk, the book calls for a withdrawal to be completed over approximately seven months with a subsequent massive reconstruction effort led by Iraqis and largely funded by the United States (at a far cheaper cost than maintaining the occupation).
On why he wrote the book, McGovern told the Washington Post: "I found that lots of thoughtful people had come to the conclusion that the war was a mistake, but they would say now that we are there, we can't pull out. It's the same argument I combated for 15 years during the Vietnam War….We concluded that instead of reducing terrorism, the [Iraq] war was aggravating it -- that we were in a more dangerous position with regard to Iraq and other countries as a consequence of the invasion…. [Polk] found that top people in the military don't think this war can be won…How do you end this? You begin to plan a systematic withdrawal. We're not talking about a stampede for the border – none of this silly business of cut and run."
McGovern and Polk advocate for an international peacekeeping force drawn from "Arab or at least Muslim countries." They write that the United States could fund such a force for two years at approximately two percent of the cost of continuing the war over the same time period. The plan describes the need for an immediate cessation of work on US military bases – which the authors say are "growing in size" and are "being given aspects of permanency."
The reconstruction effort outlined in their plan includes: destroying landmines; construction of buildings and infrastructure in a nation where over $100 billion to $200 billion in property damage has been incurred; restoration of Iraqi cultural sites damaged by the construction of US military facilities; reparations to Iraqi civilians for loss of life and property as the British are doing; grants to train Iraqi professionals who will develop Iraq's civic institutions, as well as aid to help skilled workers who want to return to the country; the voiding of all oil contracts made with American companies at discounted rates during the occupation; and rebuilding the public health system at "less than the cost of eight days of occupation, about $1.7 billion."
While one may have differences with elements of this plan, it certainly deserves a hearing. But it seems increasingly unlikely that such a plan will have traction among the cautious blue ribbon Inside-the-Beltway types. Sources inside the Progressive Caucus say that the members who met with McGovern emerged from the discussion impressed and motivated to ensure that other views are considered besides the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. (And don't expect any bold leadership there. As Erik Leaver – a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies – comments, "As a result of political pressure from the White House, the Iraq Study Group's report is not a reflection of the best minds of our nation on how to stop the killing and violence in Iraq and how to bring our troops home… the ISG's 'lowest common denominator' approach will keep US forces in Iraq for years to come without producing the political changes needed to stabilize Iraq.")
The Caucus intends to bring McGovern back again in January --along with a number of ex-CIA officials, diplomats, and military folks. The goal of these meetings is to work out a decisive plan for withdrawing our troops.
As Rep. Lynn Woolsey – co-chair of the Caucus – said following the meeting with McGovern: "Our continued military occupation is inflaming the situation, costing life and limb of not only our troops, but also countless innocent Iraqi civilians. The voters sent a message on November 7th giving the Democrats the majority with a clear mandate to bring an end to this horrific occupation. The voters did not give my party a mandate simply to…wait for cues from a blue-ribbon committee."
So, while there is no doubt that some Democrats will play it safe and wait for others to try to solve the crisis – there is a parallel track of progressive Democrats who aren't waiting to keep their promise to the American people to find a responsible way out of Iraq. The oft-maligned great patriot, George McGovern – who holds the Distinguished Flying Cross for service as a bomber pilot in World War II and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for humanitarian service – along with his co-author, William Polk, are both vital resources toward that end.