Hilary Clinton wins the prize for outlining the most detailed plan for the way forward in Iraq in the Foreign Affairs series "Campaign 2008," an ongoing feature that showcases the presidential candidates' foreign policy plans.
So far, the series has featured Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Clinton from the Democratic side, and Rudy Guliani, Mitt Romney, and John McCain from the Republicans. Here's a compilation of what the candidates proposed as their future administrations' plans for Iraq.
Ending the war in Iraq is the first step toward restoring the United States' global leadership. The war is sapping our military strength, absorbing our strategic assets, diverting attention and resources from Afghanistan, alienating our allies, and dividing our people. The war in Iraq has also stretched our military to the breaking point. We must rebuild our armed services and restore them body and soul.
We must withdraw from Iraq in a way that brings our troops home safely, begins to restore stability to the region, and replaces military force with a new diplomatic initiative to engage countries around the world in securing Iraq's future. To that end, as president, I will convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defense, and the National Security Council and direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home, starting within the first 60 days of my administration.
While working to stabilize Iraq as our forces withdraw, I will focus U.S. aid on helping Iraqis, not propping up the Iraqi government. Financial resources will go only where they will be used properly, rather than to government ministries or ministers that hoard, steal, or waste them.
As we leave Iraq militarily, I will replace our military force with an intensive diplomatic initiative in the region. The Bush administration has belatedly begun to engage Iran and Syria in talks about the future of Iraq. This is a step in the right direction, but much more must be done. As president, I will convene a regional stabilization group composed of key allies, other global powers, and all the states bordering Iraq. Working with the newly appointed UN special representative for Iraq, the group will be charged with developing and implementing a strategy for achieving a stable Iraq that provides incentives for Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey to stay out of the civil war.
Finally, we need to engage the world in a global humanitarian effort to confront the human costs of this war. We must address the plight of the two million Iraqis who have fled their country and the two million more who have been displaced internally. This will require a multibillion-dollar international effort under the direction of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Meanwhile, the United States, along with governments in Europe and the Middle East, must agree to accept asylum seekers and help them return to Iraq when it is safe for them to do so.
As we redeploy our troops from Iraq, we must not let down our guard against terrorism. I will order specialized units to engage in targeted operations against al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorist organizations in the region. These units will also provide security for U.S. troops and personnel in Iraq and train and equip Iraqi security services to keep order and promote stability in the country, but only to the extent that such training is actually working. I will also consider leaving some forces in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq in order to protect the fragile but real democracy and relative peace and security that have developed there, but with the clear understanding that the terrorist organization the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) must be dealt with and the Turkish border must be respected.
Getting out of Iraq will enable us to play a constructive role in a renewed Middle East peace process that would mean security and normal relations for Israel and the Palestinians. The fundamental elements of a final agreement have been clear since 2000: a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank in return for a declaration that the conflict is over, recognition of Israel's right to exist, guarantees of Israeli security, diplomatic recognition of Israel, and normalization of its relations with Arab states. U.S. diplomacy is critical in helping to resolve this conflict. In addition to facilitating negotiations, we must engage in regional diplomacy to gain Arab support for a Palestinian leadership that is committed to peace and willing to engage in a dialogue with the Israelis. Whether or not the United States makes progress in helping to broker a final agreement, consistent U.S. involvement can lower the level of violence and restore our credibility in the region.
To help our forces recover from Iraq and prepare them to confront the full range of twenty-first-century threats, I will work to expand and modernize the military so that fighting wars no longer comes at the expense of deployments for long-term deterrence, military readiness, or responses to urgent needs at home. As the only senator serving on the Transformation Advisory Group established by the U.S. Joint Forces Command, I have had the chance to explore these issues in detail. Ongoing military innovation is essential, but the Bush administration has undermined this goal by focusing obsessively on expensive and unproven missile defense technology while making the tragically misguided assumption that light invasion forces could not only conquer the Taliban and Saddam Hussein but also stabilize Afghanistan and Iraq.
Our brave soldiers who are wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq must receive the health care, benefits, training, and support they deserve. The treatment of wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center was a travesty. Those convalescing or struggling to build new lives after grievous injuries need an expanded version of the Family and Medical Leave Act to enable their families to provide the support they need. Beyond health care, it is also time to develop a modern GI Bill of Rights in order to expand professional and entrepreneurial opportunities as well as access to education and home ownership.
Clinton's devoted more attention to the Iraq issue than any of the other candidates, and proposed the most comprehensive and specific plan. She also advocates a re-focus on Afghanistan and the "real" war on terror, a reduction in reliance on foreign oil and move to alternate sources of energy, a program to secure loose nukes, and a boost to foreign assistance targeting education and disease eradication.
John McCain (R)
Defeating radical Islamist extremists is the national security challenge of our time. Iraq is this war's central front, according to our commander there, General David Petraeus, and according to our enemies, including al Qaeda's leadership.
The recent years of mismanagement and failure in Iraq demonstrate that America should go to war only with sufficient troop levels and with a realistic and comprehensive plan for success. We did not do so in Iraq, and our country and the people of Iraq have paid a dear price. Only after four years of conflict did the United States adopt a counterinsurgency strategy, backed by increased force levels, that gives us a realistic chance of success. We cannot get those years back, and now the only responsible action for any presidential candidate is to look forward and outline the strategic posture in Iraq that is most likely to protect U.S. national interests.
So long as we can succeed in Iraq -- and I believe that we can -- we must succeed. The consequences of failure would be horrific: a historic loss at the hands of Islamist extremists who, after having defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the United States in Iraq, will believe that the world is going their way and that anything is possible; a failed state in the heart of the Middle East providing sanctuary for terrorists; a civil war that could quickly develop into a regional conflict and even genocide; a decisive end to the prospect of a modern democracy in Iraq, for which large Iraqi majorities have repeatedly voted; and an invitation for Iran to dominate Iraq and the region even more.
Whether success grows closer or more distant over the coming months, it is clear that Iraq will be a central issue for the next U.S. president. Democratic candidates have promised to withdraw U.S. troops and "end the war" by fiat, regardless of the consequences. To make such decisions based on the political winds at home, rather than on the realities in the theater, is to court disaster. The war in Iraq cannot be wished away, and it is a miscalculation of historic magnitude to believe that the consequences of failure will be limited to one administration or one party. This is an American war, and its outcome will touch every one of our citizens for years to come.
That is why I support our continuing efforts to win in Iraq. It is also why I oppose a preemptive withdrawal strategy that has no Plan B for the aftermath of its inevitable failure and the greater problems that would ensue.
In his boldest initiative, McCain suggests his administration would establish "a free-trade area from Morocco to Afghanistan, open to all who do not sponsor terrorism," though he gives no indication of how such a plan could be implemented. McCain says he would also work to revitalize public diplomacy, modernize the military, and would establish a new language-instruction program in civilian and military schools to teach scores of students Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, and Pashto.
John Edwards (D)
We must move beyond the wreckage created by one of the greatest strategic failures in U.S. history: the war in Iraq. Rather than alienating the rest of the world through assertions of infallibility and demands of obedience, as the current administration has done, U.S. foreign policy must be driven by a strategy of reengagement....
We should begin our reengagement with the world by bringing an end to the Iraq war. Iraq's problems are deep and dangerous, but they cannot be solved by the U.S. military. For over a year, I have argued for an immediate withdrawal of 40,000 to 50,000 U.S. combat troops from Iraq, followed by an orderly and complete withdrawal of all combat troops. Once we are out of Iraq, the United States must retain sufficient forces in the region to prevent a genocide, a regional spillover of the civil war, or the establishment of an al Qaeda safe haven. We will most likely need to retain quick-reaction forces in Kuwait and a significant naval presence in the Persian Gulf. We will also need some security capabilities in Baghdad, inside the Green Zone, to protect the U.S. embassy and U.S. personnel. Finally, we will need a diplomatic offensive to engage the rest of the world -- including Middle Eastern nations and our allies in Europe -- in working to secure Iraq's future. All of these measures will finally allow us to close this terrible chapter and move on to the broader challenges of the new century.
Edwards says he would also use economic pressure to work to prevent Iran from procuring a nuclear weapon and North Korea from enriching unranium, establish a "Marshall Corps" (named after Gen. George Marshall) of civilian experts who could deploy abroad in times of crisis, and increase foreign assistance in education, and disease eradication programs.
Rudy Guliani (R)
We must learn from these experiences for the long war that lies ahead. It is almost certain that U.S. troops will still be fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan when the next president takes office. The purpose of this fight must be to defeat the terrorists and the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and to allow these countries to become members of the international system in good standing. We must be under no illusions that either Iraq or Afghanistan will quickly attain the levels of peace and security enjoyed in the developed world today. Our aim should be to help them build accountable, functioning governments that can serve the needs of their populations, reduce violence within their borders, and eliminate the export of terror. As violence decreases and security improves, more responsibility can and should be turned over to local security forces. But some U.S. forces will need to remain for some time in order to deter external threats.
We cannot predict when our efforts will be successful. But we can predict the consequences of failure: Afghanistan would revert to being a safe haven for terrorists, and Iraq would become another one -- larger, richer, and more strategically located. Parts of Iraq would undoubtedly fall under the sway of our enemies, particularly Iran, which would use its influence to direct even more terror at U.S. interests and U.S. allies than it does today. The balance of power in the Middle East would tip further toward terror, extremism, and repression. America's influence and prestige -- not just in the Middle East but around the world -- would be dealt a shattering blow. Our allies would conclude that we cannot back up our commitments with sustained action. Our enemies -- both terrorists and rogue states -- would be emboldened. They would see further opportunities to weaken the international state system that is the primary defense of civilization. Much as our enemies in the 1990s concluded from our inconsistent response to terrorism then, our enemies today would conclude that America's will is weak and the civilization we pledged to defend is tired. Failure would be an invitation for more war, in even more difficult and dangerous circumstances....
Our goal is to see in Iraq and Afghanistan the emergence of stable governments and societies that can act as our allies against the terrorists and not as breeding grounds for expanded terrorist activities. Succeeding in Iraq and Afghanistan is necessary but not sufficient. Ultimately, these are only two battlegrounds in a wider war. The United States must not rest until the al Qaeda network is destroyed and its leaders, from Osama bin Laden on down, are killed or captured. And the United States must not rest until the global terrorist movement and its ideology are defeated.
Guliani does not so much outline a plan for the way forward in Iraq so much as he does justify why his administration would stay the course. Beyond Iraq, Guliani's international security policy would include an expansion of military power, an emphasis on diplomacy, re-building international institutions, and an attempt to expand America's cultural and economic influence.
Barack Obama (D)
To renew American leadership in the world, we must first bring the Iraq war to a responsible end and refocus our attention on the broader Middle East. Iraq was a diversion from the fight against the terrorists who struck us on 9/11, and incompetent prosecution of the war by America's civilian leaders compounded the strategic blunder of choosing to wage it in the first place. We have now lost over 3,300 American lives, and thousands more suffer wounds both seen and unseen.
Our servicemen and servicewomen have performed admirably while sacrificing immeasurably. But it is time for our civilian leaders to acknowledge a painful truth: we cannot impose a military solution on a civil war between Sunni and Shiite factions. The best chance we have to leave Iraq a better place is to pressure these warring parties to find a lasting political solution. And the only effective way to apply this pressure is to begin a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces, with the goal of removing all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008 -- a date consistent with the goal set by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. This redeployment could be temporarily suspended if the Iraqi government meets the security, political, and economic benchmarks to which it has committed. But we must recognize that, in the end, only Iraqi leaders can bring real peace and stability to their country.
At the same time, we must launch a comprehensive regional and international diplomatic initiative to help broker an end to the civil war in Iraq, prevent its spread, and limit the suffering of the Iraqi people. To gain credibility in this effort, we must make clear that we seek no permanent bases in Iraq. We should leave behind only a minimal over-the-horizon military force in the region to protect American personnel and facilities, continue training Iraqi security forces, and root out al Qaeda.
The morass in Iraq has made it immeasurably harder to confront and work through the many other problems in the region -- and it has made many of those problems considerably more dangerous. Changing the dynamic in Iraq will allow us to focus our attention and influence on resolving the festering conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians -- a task that the Bush administration neglected for years....
Throughout the Middle East, we must harness American power to reinvigorate American diplomacy. Tough-minded diplomacy, backed by the whole range of instruments of American power -- political, economic, and military -- could bring success even when dealing with long-standing adversaries such as Iran and Syria. Our policy of issuing threats and relying on intermediaries to curb Iran's nuclear program, sponsorship of terrorism, and regional aggression is failing. Although we must not rule out using military force, we should not hesitate to talk directly to Iran. Our diplomacy should aim to raise the cost for Iran of continuing its nuclear program by applying tougher sanctions and increasing pressure from its key trading partners. The world must work to stop Iran's uranium-enrichment program and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is far too dangerous to have nuclear weapons in the hands of a radical theocracy. At the same time, we must show Iran -- and especially the Iranian people -- what could be gained from fundamental change: economic engagement, security assurances, and diplomatic relations. Diplomacy combined with pressure could also reorient Syria away from its radical agenda to a more moderate stance -- which could, in turn, help stabilize Iraq, isolate Iran, free Lebanon from Damascus' grip, and better secure Israel.
Obama goes on to lay out a security plan that would include an expansion of the armed forces, a re-focus on operations along the Afghan-Pakistan border, attention to re-building fractured international partnerships, and buttressing the US's democracy-promotion agenda by increasing foreign assistance funding.
Mitt Romney (R)
While the difficult struggle in Iraq dominates the political debate, we cannot let current polls and political dynamics drive us to repeat mistakes the United States has made at critical moments of doubt and uncertainty about our role in the world. Twice in the last several decades, following the end of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam and the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, the United States became dangerously unprepared. Today, among our main challenges are an Iranian regime and an al Qaeda network that developed while we let down our defenses. Whether or not the current "surge" in troop levels in Iraq succeeds, the United States and our allies need to be prepared to deal not only with the struggle against jihadists but with a new generation of challenges that go far beyond any single nation or conflict.
We need an honest debate about what policies and what sacrifices will ensure a strong America and a safe world. As President Ronald Reagan once observed, "There have been four wars in my lifetime. None of them came about because the United States was too strong." A strong America requires a strong military and a strong economy. And we need to take further action if we are to remain strong and if we are to build a safe world, with peace, prosperity, freedom, and dignity. Doing so will be controversial, and it will be strongly resisted because it will require dramatic changes to Cold War institutions and approaches. The Cold War is over, and the world that too many of our current capabilities and alliances were created to address no longer exists. We cannot remain mired in the past.
Romney dances around the subject of the way forward in Iraq, waxing poetic about the difficulty of change and the importance of success, but skimping on the specifics. Instead, he devotes the bulk of his piece to explaining his "four key pillars of action": expanding the military, achieving energy independence, reforming civilian government agencies, and returning to a multilateral approach in foreign relations.