A Plan for Iraq

Via Daily Kos:

Bryan Lentz was the featured Fighting Dem this past Tuesday. Asked about Iraq, Lentz gave a great answer and I asked him to write it up for this site. Here it is:


By Bryan Lentz

As many of you already know, I am a candidate in Pennsylvania's Seventh congressional district, which encompasses Delaware County, and parts of Chester and Montgomery counties, in southeast Pennsylvania. There is no reason that suburban Philadelphia should be represented by an extremist, conservative congressmen like Curt Weldon, who among other things has voted to eviscerate workers' rights and who opposes stem cell research.

Weldon is also a senior member of the Republican-led House Armed Services Committee and a key architect of the Bush administration's disastrous Iraq policy.

Having served for a year in Iraq, where I oversaw civil reconstruction in and around the city of Mosul as a Major in the United States Army, I can offer a good deal of expertise on the war.

I've spoken with friends and neighbors in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, where I live, and throughout the district. Some were in favor of the war before it began; others were opposed. But all agree that the Bush administration failed to gather solid pre-war intelligence and botched the post-war reconstruction effort. Sadly, we can't turn the clock back and reverse George Bush and Curt Weldon's incompetence. But we can do two things to inspire optimism in this wars two great constituencies; the American people and the Iraqi people:

First, we can (and should) establish a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The president and his supporters have suggested that establishing a timeline would only embolden the enemy. This is false. Our current problem is not that we plan too much; it's that the Bush dministration has planned too little. History and experience make clear the price to be paid by such a failure.

The current open ended, bottomless strategy has weakened morale among U.S. troops and U.S. citizens, made it more difficult for the National Guard and Reserve units to meet their enlistment targets, and engendered despair among ordinary Iraqis who see no end in sight to America's military presence in their country. This is bad for the war effort, and bad for homeland security, as we are unable to effectively deal with natural and man made disasters at home when Guard and Reserve units are spread thin.

The Powell doctrine which grew out of our failure in Vietnam recognized that representative democracies cannot sustain open ended wars; their citizens will not tolerate them and they have devastating effects on a nations ability to maintain a robust national defense.

By establishing clear obtainable objectives, meaningful benchmarks and a real timeline for withdrawal, we can boost the morale of American servicemen and servicewomen, help stave off the mounting crisis of confidence among the Iraqi people, and convince a skeptical American public that there is an end in sight.

Second, we need to radically overhaul the reconstruction effort. Thus far, it has been an unmitigated failure. Today, roughly half of all Iraqi households are still without clean water, the average household is without electricity for 10 hours each day, and (outside of Baghdad) only 8 percent of households enjoy access to a sewage system. The reconstruction fiasco has created a drag on Iraq's economy - nearly 50 percent of the country is under-employed or unemployed - fertile ground for political instability, terrorism and a growing insurgency.

Whether one was for or against the war in the first place we have an obligation now to ourselves and the Iraqi people to do finish this properly.

I believe in the Iraqi people. I believe in their future. They're very much like us: they want good schools for their kids, safe streets, and normal lives. But they can't be expected to build a stable and democratic country or believe in their own futures until basic infrastructure needs have been met.

We need to remove reconstruction command authority from civilians and place it directly in the hands of the military; and, we need to transfer as many of the reconstruction contracts as possible directly to Iraqi firms. Not one cent of the remaining taxpayer money that we sent to rebuild Iraq should go into the pockets of American firms profiting from this war. The American and multinational companies that are currently handling reconstruction in Iraq have all been awarded "cost-plus" contracts which assure them a profit and leave them no economic incentive to actually finish the jobs they've been hired to undertake. As a result, enormous sums of money have been diverted to security services for American contractors, and generous salaries for American businessmen working in Iraq.

I have witnessed this madness first hand, and it has to stop. Iraqi firms have proven that they can get the job done quicker and cheaper. In Karbala and Kut, two Iraqi firms spent a total of $185 million to build twin water treatment facilities. By contrast, a partnership between two London-based and California-based companies spent $200 million to build just one water treatment plant.

When we transfer reconstruction authority from civilian officials to American military officials, and when we put an end to cost-plus contracts by shifting the bulk of the reconstruction to Iraqi firms, we will effectively give a boost to the Iraqi economy and speed up the restoration of Iraq's infrastructure. The sooner we do these things, the sooner we can bring our soldiers home and refocus our national defense on the many other threats to our security that have nothing to do with Iraq.

The Republicans will try to brand Democrats - and all other critics of the war effort - as "anti-war." It's a cheap trick that suits their purpose. Nobody wants to be "against" our servicemen and servicewomen.

But this is not a question of being "pro-war" or "anti-war." It's about acting now to stop the spiral of failure that George Bush, Curt Weldon and the Republican party have created.

We must succeed, and Democrats can stake out a firm position in favor of competency and success. And that's exactly what I am doing in this congressional race, and what I will do in Washington.

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