How-to-leave-Iraq plans have proliferated over the past five years. Most of the plans proposed by Democrats have brimmed with rhetoric aimed at scoring points against President George W. Bush rather than working out the messy details of how to end the occupation and what to do in its aftermath.

Ten Democratic candidates for Congress have just changed that with the announcement of a plan that sets forth a strategic vision both to bring the Iraq War to an end and to prevent future “Iraqs.”

Led by Darcy Burner, a candidate for the U.S. Congress from Washington state, and nine other candidates, A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq has many elements in common with other initiatives seeking to end the war. It would draw down troops, create a “diplomatic surge,” and provide relief for refugees.

But it sharply differs on the question of the scope of withdrawal. For example, the plans of presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton call for “combat” troops to withdraw, but would leave 30,000-60,000 troops behind for counterinsurgency operations and military training. A Responsible Plan rejects such a strategy saying, “The continued presence in Iraq of so-called ‘residual forces’ … would be a mistake.”

The 10 candidates argue that residual forces would be in the same position U.S. forces are in today: they would be targeted by insurgents, they would inevitably get involved in Iraq’s domestic political disputes, and U.S. troops would continue fighting alongside Iraqis outside of U.S. control.

The plan stands out in its understanding of the role the United States needs to play following the withdrawal. It calls for fundamental changes in the State Department to improve its capacity for nation-building and diplomatic engagement. Most importantly, it calls for strong, international efforts to restart reconstruction. As many lawmakers in Washington, such as Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John Warner (R-VA), are calling for Iraqis to pay for their own reconstruction, authors of A Responsible Plan note the need for a massive jobs program supported by the U.S. and international community to rebuild the country.

To reduce the chances for future Iraq-style wars, the plan argues for a reining in of the executive branch and a realignment of power between the three branches of government. The plans says presidential signing statements should be eliminated, war funding should be incorporated into the normal budget process, and warrantless spying on U.S. citizens should end.

Like all of the withdrawal proposals, the plan isn’t perfect. Its most notable shortfall is that it fails to set a timetable for withdrawal, and does not propose spending levels for Iraq reconstruction. It also does not address the long-term challenges that al Qaeda presents in the region.

Despite these deficiencies, the effort is noteworthy as it seeks to put Iraq back into the public debate during the election. As coverage of the nation’s economic woes overshadowed the war, many Democratic pollsters urged candidates to shift their messages. But the plan’s 10 authors and the 40 other candidates for the House and Senate that have endorsed it are acutely aware that Democratic challenger Ned Lamont’s 2006 campaign shifted the public’s opinion on Iraq during his primary race against Senator Joe Lieberman. By releasing this plan, these candidates are seeking to keep the pressure on for a withdrawal, even as many in the Democratic Party are resigned to waiting for a new president. Indeed, A Responsible Plan, contains references to no less than 15 existing bills in the House and Senate that would move Iraq policy forward if they were passed today.

If elected, these 50 new members would come into office with a clear, executable plan needed to set our country back on the right path and a chance to offer the Iraqi people a new beginning. We owe our country, the world, and Iraq no less.

Interested? Read the plan at

Erik Leaver is a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and the policy outreach director for Foreign Policy In Focus.

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