For months now, we've seen the same small, ambiguously-worded sound bite on the Iraq War from the Arcuri campaign:
I am proud of our troops in Iraq, and grateful for the sacrifices made every day by them and their families. That is why we need a realistic exit strategy based on tangible, achievable benchmarks that allow us to monitor our progress and lead us out of Iraq as soon as possible.
The President made a bad, unnecessary decision. Equally bad, he created a situation that we now have to deal with because a precipitous withdrawal could ensure that Iraq will become a haven for terrorists. He says we must STAY THE COURSE but that is no longer prudent. We must CHANGE THE COURSE. We have toppled a dictator, facilitated free elections, and given the Iraqis an opportunity for democratic government. Our troops have done everything we have asked of them, and now we should reward them by gradually redeploying them. Our commanders tell us that a strategic redeployment is critical to maintaining the integrity of our ground forces. That requires a realistic but definite exit strategy, a well-conceived plan with benchmarks that provide intermediate, achievable goals that enable us to monitor our progress toward a stable democratic Iraq. Benchmarks, wisely arrived at and competently administered, can help us CHANGE THE COURSE.
When you look at this short statement by Arcuri, and read it for meaning instead of feeling, you'll see that there isn't much content there. In essence, Arcuri has suggested no plan at all, although he suggests he has by putting the words "change the course" in all upper case. The closest that Arcuri gets to an actual plan in his statement is the idea that someone will, at some later time, come up with a "well conceived plan with benchmarks", though Arcuri has no idea what that plan would be, that someone will, at that time, set "achievable goals", though Arcuri has no idea what those would be, and that will create "a stable, democratic Iraq" so that American troops can leave. Essentially, Arcuri is proposing that America does something about the Iraq problem, and does it well. If that's a plan, it's a tautological one.
This final point is the only unambiguous one in Arcuri's short statement on Iraq, and it worries me. It worries me, because Arcuri is suggesting that he believes that Amer"ican soldiers should only leave Iraq after the creation of a "stable, democratic Iraq". The trouble with this plan is that the government that we're creating in Iraq is neither stable nor democratic. The new Iraqi government can't survive on its own, and it may not deserve to. It's been caught using brutal methods reminiscent of the Hussein regime: Torture rooms and death squads, among other things. That's not what democracies do.
As much as Arcuri criticizes George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq War, in this last point he seems to actually be in agreement with Bush war policy - that the war can only end when we achieve victory. Well, when will that happen? When could the Iraqi government conceivably be "stable and democratic"? Five years? Ten years? With a permanent American presence keeping the thing from falling apart, like we see in Korea?
Compare Arcuri's short, yet troubling, statement on Iraq with what Les Roberts had to offer. The following is just a short excerpt from a longer policy paper Roberts wrote that went into details about the challenge America faces in Iraq and ideas for what we can do to get out:
“What is to be done?
I believe that we need to extricate our troops from Iraq and promote our national well-being by:
a) Undermining the perception that our troops are in Iraq to get oil by passing legislation to prohibit any for-profit U.S. companies from operating in Iraq for a five year period. We have prohibited U.S. corporations from doing business in Cuba and Libya in the past, and it is even more in the national interest to do so in Iraq today. This would help defuse the anger of the average Iraqi and de-fuel the armed resistance.
b) Setting a timetable for removing troops from Iraq. Opponents of this idea say that this will only encourage the resistance by showing them that if they just lay low and hold out, they will be able to win. I argue that if the resistance might in some way let up as we prepare to withdraw, even if only to lay low, this hiatus still is good if it permits the building of Iraqi governmental capacity. A public timetable will pressure Iraqi police and security forces to step into the security void. A public timetable will discredit radical elements within the country that have argued that violence is the only way to regain control of their country. Twelve months is a reasonable period for withdrawal of all U.S. forces.
c) Setting a date to rescind the President’s authority to conduct war in Iraq. The international image of this President helps fuel the resistance in Iraq and terrorism internationally. Much of the Muslim world perceives George Bush to be defending the interests of the oil companies and conducting a religious or personal crusade. Rescinding his authority to conduct war in Iraq without ongoing Congressional approval will send the message that our withdrawal plans are genuine. Moreover, for the safety of our troops we need to display that there is a check within the U.S. government on this man who is so mistrusted and unpopular throughout the Middle-east.
I am convinced that we can withdraw from Iraq in a rapid manner with minimal chance of open civil war erupting. However, this will need to involve a comprehensive plan that addresses economic activities and the Iraqis’ impressions regarding the US. At this moment in time, having made a mistake invading Iraq, we need a plan that is humble and wise rather than proud and belligerent.
Big difference, huh? That difference came from experience. Les Roberts had extensive foreign policy experience, and he'd been on the ground in Iraq. Michael Arcuri just doesn't have that kind of background.
It's said that Les Roberts got assurances from Mike Arcuri that the sole remaining Democratic campaign would start presenting a position on the Iraq War of a kind that Roberts would agree with. We ought not just to believe such assertions, however. We ought to put them to the test.
Well, here's the test: In the days to come, will Arcuri attempt to learn from the unique experience of Les Roberts in Iraq? Will Arcuri adopt any of the ideas we see above? Will he use Les Roberts as an asset, a source of fresh ideas, or will he cast Les Roberts aside in favor of continuing with safe, yet essentially meaningless, soundbites?
Michael Arcuri has the Democratic nomination wrapped up (so long as no scandal or other problem comes along for Arcuri - we have no backup candidate now). It's the general election he has to worry about now. But, without ever having brought any actual Democratic voters to the polls to prove their support for him, Arcuri has yet to achieve a clear show that the Democratic base is behind him. Donors and Democratic Committee members who are looking for a "winner" aren't at all the same kind of creature as a rank-and-file voter.
In the general election, Arcuri will need as many Democrats to turn out as possible. The stand he takes on the Iraq War may well determine how many Democratic voters decide that a vote for Arcuri is worth the effort of getting out behind the TV.