A Different Plan for Iraq

One of the administration's favorite talking points now is that the Democrats don't have a plan for Iraq. They're basically saying: Our plan sucks, but at least we have one.

Of course, the suggestion that there are no alternatives to Bush's escalation plan in Iraq is absurd. There was a little thing called the Iraq Study Group. I believe they came up with a very detailed and well thought-out plan. That's the same plan that the president crumpled up and threw in the garbage.

And how long and how loud does Jack Murtha have to speak out about his redeployment plan for it to count? How about Biden's plan to help separate the warring factions? I guess none of these plans count unless Fox News Channel and Republican politicians say they count.

I'm always amazed at how easy it is for the right wing to manipulate the media. I saw the graphic "Where Are the Democrats?" on Hannity&Colmes right after President Bush's speech, and I thought, "Oh boy, here we go."

It was just a matter of time before they drummed that into the rest of the cable network's heads. It's such an obvious ploy to shift attention away from the president's awful and hugely unpopular plan and try to pin some sort of blame on the Democrats instead. I wonder if anyone ever stands up at a meeting in CNN and asks, "Maybe we shouldn't cover this 'story' if it has absolutely no basis in fact?"

I am sure if that mythical scene ever took place, it would be greeted with a chorus of, "But everybody is talking about it!" By that they mean -- Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the Drudge Report are all using the same talking point.

But just in case the Republicans weren't convinced, I have another plan for Iraq. It also involves a surge, so get ready to get excited. But unfortunately, it doesn't involve killing more people. So, I'm sorry if I gave the Republican readers blue balls with that tease.

Experts believe that the president's military escalation of the conflict in Iraq will cost us an additional $20 billion. And most agree it doesn't have a Shiite's chance in Ramadi of working. So, instead of wasting all that money on a plan that nearly everyone agrees will not work and costing the lives of more Americans in the process, why don't we use that money for another purpose?

This is not the point where I say we should cure AIDS and feed the homeless with that money instead. No, we should use it to help Iraq. I know it's a revolutionary thought, but stay with me.

Leaving the country now after we pummeled it and threw it into chaos seems, well, rude. I think withdrawing without any effort to set straight what we have torn asunder would be grossly irresponsible. But the only solution is not always a military one.

So, our one last Hail Mary pass doesn't have to be a bomb. What if we said that we were going to spend that same amount of money to rebuild Iraq? But this time we weren't going to give it to our contractors in no-bid contracts and wall them off with more security that wastes even more money.

I think we should set up a system of incentives to hand that money out to projects to rebuild the vital areas of Iraq. We can set certain benchmarks that regions have to meet in order to qualify for the funds, including a certain level of order and security. This could provide Iraqis with an incentive to re-establish security on their own, instead of trying to impose it on them.

We don't have to shovel the money out in a completely unaccountable way like we did the first time around. We can keep very tight controls to make sure the money is reaching the right places. No system will be perfect of course, and there is no question that there will be some degree of fraud once the money leaves our hands, but could it really be worse than what our own contractors did after the war?

Remember, we "lost" $9 billion of Iraqi oil revenue after the invasion when the Coalition Provisional Authority was in charge of Iraq. Literally. Paul Bremer said he has no idea where the money went and that it was hard to keep track of it because it's a third world country (remember, he was running the country at the time). That is four times the size of the money Saddam embezzled in the oil-for-food scandal.

We owe it to the Iraqis to try to help them put their country back together again. We also apparently owe them $9 billion we misplaced. This could begin to make amends for some of our mistakes. It could also gain us some credibility in Iraq and the region. It might even gain us some friends.

Just as important as all of this, it would create more jobs. And that is what Iraq needs most of all. It would help to take people off the street and give them a constructive project to work on. It would reduce the incentive to join the insurgency or the Shiite militias. And for once, we would be showing the carrot rather than stick. It could earn us some long awaited good faith that our military occupation has not garnered.

This plan will be tough to pass here at home because nobody is in the mood to spend any more money on Iraq. Conservative estimates say this war will cost us $1.2 trillion. That is a gigantic sum of money. And I appreciate that concern. But the $20 billion is going to be spent anyway on this foolish escalation idea.

Why is it always easier to get people to spend money on war than it is on constructive projects? God forbid we should help people rebuild their lives, but if we want to bomb them, everyone is into it. Because if you're not into war as an answer to all solutions, then you're a wimp.

That might seem like a bit of a simplification of how our political process works, but it really isn't. Watch. They will eventually approve the money for this new escalation and Congress would never approve an extra $20 billion for Iraqi reconstruction (and this callous administration would never ask).

We screwed up Iraq royally. We need a massive mea culpa. The US has to acknowledge our mistakes to the Iraqi people and to the world and try to make amends. This isn't some sort of weak, feel good policy. This is a way of buying out of our problem, but in a smart way. It could gain us desperately needed credibility around the globe. Other countries might begin to trust us again. It is very important that others believe we tried to put Iraq back together in a way that was thoughtful and not strictly geared to our financial advantage.

Finally, this plan has the added advantage that it might work. The most brilliant foreign policy strategy that the United States ever had was the Marshall Plan. We rebuilt our enemies in a seemingly selfless way, and they flourished into our best allies today. They also became the second and third largest economies in the world and terrific trading partners for us. And they became beacons of democracy to boot.

Wouldn't it be crazy if we learned from the past? I know that sounds like a soft-headed, do-gooder, ivory tower, educated, elitist, liberal idea. Who would bother to learn history, let alone use it as a guide to figure out what to do right? Only cowards and weaklings. The strong understand the military is the only solution. Just ask Napoleon at Waterloo. The Germans in Stalingrad. The Russians in Afghanistan. Senselessly driving your army into the ground must be the right solution. I don't know what I was thinking.

But before we give up on this idea as hopelessly sensible and idealistic, we should consider the fact that this country was once smart enough to do this. I am not citing ancient scrolls, or the policies of a long lost tribe from a land far, far away. These are ideas we had just a short time ago in this country. These are ideas we implemented. These are ideas that worked. If we were smart enough, brave enough and strong enough to do it before, why can't we do it again?