October 2004
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Day October 12, 2004

A real plan for Iraq: are we expecting the impossible during a debate?

Many are faulting both candidates for not articulating a more detailed plan for Iraq during the debates. David Broder’s latest column in WaPo is just one example.

I’m a policy and details person, so naturally I’m interested in the forward-looking plans as well. But I’m coming to wonder whether the truth is, that neither candidate can offer a detailed plan on the ground because we simply don’t know what will work. Thus, the Bush campaign falls back to “staying the course,” and the Kerry campaign wants to repair alliances and bring in allies to help. Neither is so much a plan as an approach.

Approaches to the problem might be all we have at the moment. Reclaiming areas from insurgents doesn’t appear to yield to general solutions — though locally negotiated solutions seem to be yielding incremental improvements (I’m thinking here of the nascent arms-for-aid swap in Sadr City). Juan Cole (who is extremely well informed on the situation although conservatives may find his outlook not to their tastes) believes that the Mahdi will not disarm completely, but may turn over excess weapons and avoid appearing in the streets heavily armed.

What I’m saying is that it may be unreasonable right now to expect a detailed, simple plan for how we “fix” Iraq from either candidate. God knows I’d love to hold the Administration’s feet to the fire on how to fix things, but I don’t think they know how to do it. I don’t think Allawi knows how to do it. And Kerry, since he’s got even less information than either Allawi or the Administration, can’t be expected to know, either.

So we have to judge these candidates not on the details of plans which likely don’t exist. We have to judge them on their approaches. On their philosophies of action, on what they will try to do going forward in Iraq.

At least, that’s how I’m going to be looking at tomorrow night’s debate and subsequent campaign rhetoric on Iraq.