The Candidates on Iraq

By Corn, David | The Nation, December 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Candidates on Iraq


Corn, David, The Nation


What would you do now in Iraq? is the question confronting the Democratic presidential candidates. Some of the wannabes (Dick Gephardt, John Edwards, Joe Lieberman and, in part, John Kerry) supported George W. Bush's move toward war; some did not (Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun). But they have to deal--at least hypothetically--with the situation Bush created. They all say they would handle postwar Iraq much differently from Bush. All want to remove the Made in America label from the occupation and bring in troops from other nations to replace or augment US soldiers. Some are keener on the United Nations than others. Some refer to a possible need for more troops in the short run. Not one advocates a withdrawal without a handoff. But only a few candidates have gone beyond generalities to offer specific proposals.

Dean, the front-runner, and all in the pack advocate transferring control of the civilian occupation and reconstruction effort to an international body, with most naming the UN. This, they maintain, would be a prelude to persuading other nations to send in troops and money. "We just can't cut and run," Dean argues. "We need to bring troops from Arabic-speaking nations in so this is an international reconstruction and not an American occupation." Kerry calls for going "to the UN completely." He would then ask the UN to authorize a "multinational force under US command."

The presumption they generally share is that the UN would be willing to assume the task, that it can do the job and that other nations would be inclined to send troops not only for peacekeeping but perhaps also for the more brutal mission of counterinsurgency. Are these valid presumptions? Even as Carol Moseley Braun calls for internationalizing the military operation in Iraq, she notes that "the United Nations won't put troops on the ground there because it's too dangerous." John Edwards argues that if the United States were to yield civilian control, it would "create the kind of energy we need to bring allies and friends to this effort, to help relieve the burden on American troops, relieve the burden on American taxpayers." He has called for "help from NATO," an independent commission to oversee reconstruction contracts (so there are no sweetheart deals for US firms) and "specific timetables" to transfer political authority to Iraqis.

Only Lieberman and Clark have suggested that more US troops might be required. In September, Lieberman, who a year ago called for an international force in Iraq, said, "I would send more troops, because the troops that are there need that protection. And we need some of the specialized services that will help Iraqis gain control of their country and [that will] mean that sooner American troops could come home." He also has proposed that after civilian administration of Iraq is passed to the UN, the occupation be led by "a qualified Arab official. …

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