Democratic Hopefuls Unveil Plan to End War
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On Monday, just hours after Vice President Dick Cheney announced from Baghdad that the war in Iraq has been a “successful endeavor,” 10 Democrats vying for House seats in November bet their campaigns that voters feel differently.
Led by Darcy Burner, a Microsoft manager turned Washington state congressional challenger, the group unveiled a sweeping strategy to end the Iraq conflict, charging that the five-year-old occupation has sapped America’s economy while tarnishing its international reputation. The plan, which combines several unrealized Iraq Study Group recommendations with a number of proposals idling in Congress, would shift Iraq strategy away from a strict military approach to focus instead on diplomatic, economic and humanitarian solutions.
While the proposal is likely to go nowhere fast in Washington, it signifies that many Democratic candidates intend to center their campaigns around the war issue, hoping to tap a vein of public dissatisfaction with the conflict even as the nation’s economic turmoil — grown more prominent with the collapse of investment giant Bear Stearns over the weekend — has evolved to become the first issue on voters’ minds.
“Voters get it,” Burner said Monday at the liberal Take Back America conference in Washington, D.C. “They understand that we have to end this war if we’re going to address all the other problems that we have.”
In an early signal that Burner might be on the right track, the contest to replace the retiring Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) was taken earlier this month by Democrat Bill Foster. Despite running in a largely Republican district — Hastert had held the seat for 21 years — Foster was unabashed in his position to end the Iraq war.
Central to their plan, the Democrats propose to adopt Iraq Study Group recommendations calling on the United States to make no open-ended commitments “to keep large numbers of troops in Iraq.” The blueprint also urges the passage of proposed legislation to assist Iraqi war refugees, phase out the use of private military contractors, prohibit the transfer of captives to countries known to torture and return habeas corpus rights to prisoners held by the U.S. government.
Charging that the news media was complicit in the selling of the war, the group of Democrats propose the repeal of federal rules easing media consolidation. To wean the country from its reliance on Middle Eastern oil, the plan also endorses the development and adoption of renewable energy sources.
Colorado’s Jared Polis, the Democratic candidate to fill the seat left open by Rep. Mark Udall (D), who is running for Senate, argued Monday that the changes would not only lead the U.S out of Iraq, but also guide the nation’s foreign policy in the future.
“This war is a war of choice,” Polis said in a statement, “and we need to end our occupation of Iraq and support systemic reforms that prevent this kind of disaster from occurring again.”
On that point, Polis will find little opposition from his Democratic primary opponent, Joan Fitz-Gerald, who has also called for a swift end to the Iraq war.
The Democratic hopefuls are not alone in their campaign. In crafting the out-of-Iraq strategy, Burner recruited several former high-ranking military and national security figures, including retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, Iraq’s former Security Transition Commanding General, and Lawrence J. Korb, former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. Eaton, a Republican who voted for George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004, said the plan is “a means of responsibly concluding the American occupation of Iraq.”
Joining Burner and Polis in endorsing the plan are Democratic hopefuls Donna Edwards (Md.), Eric Massa (N.Y.), Chellie Pingree (Maine), Tom Perriello (Va.), George Fearing (Wash.), Larry Byrnes (Fl.), Steve Harrison (N.Y.) and Sam Bennett (Penn.). Supporters say they hope to recruit 40 more candidate sponsors by September.
Republicans, meanwhile, are hoping voters will respond more favorably to the experience of GOP incumbents with proven track records. Julie Shutley, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, pointed out that Burner ran for the same seat on a similar anti-war platform in 2006, but lost to sitting Republican Rep. Dave Reichert.
But Rep. Janice Schakowski (D-Ill.) — who was attending Monday’s progressive gathering and has co-sponsored many of the legislative proposals presented in the Democrats’ strategy — argued that inexperience in Washington can sometimes be the best catalyst to change.
“It may just be that we need that kind of naiveté,” Schakowski said.