But on the subject of Iraq, it was the same-old, same-old: is the surge working? Yes, Bush insists, trumpeting its successes while failing to acknowledge the real work that still needs to be done in rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure and economy. Should we withdraw troops? No, Bush maintains, not until their job is done, but he fails to mention the crucial, sustainable development programs that must replace withdrawn troops in order for true peace and security to be established.
And completely absent from Bush's 10 minutes on Iraq and almost 20 minutes on the Middle East was any mention of the four million plus Iraqis displaced by violence, whose unmet needs threaten the stability of the region and thus U.S. interests.
That Bush continues to ignore the humanitarian and economic dimensions of rebuilding Iraq is no surprise. More disturbing is that rhetoric seems similarly adrift amongst the presidential candidates, who drag on with the same old arguments over the surge and "you-supported-the-war, no-you-did" finger-pointing. Like the President, they seem reluctant to discuss what Iraq needs in terms any more specific than "surge" and "withdrawal."
EPIC does not take political sides, but we want you to know where the candidates stand on the real issues in Iraq. For starters, here's a discussion of the leading Democratic candidates (the Republicans are so far taking Bush's lead and not mentioning the word "refugee" at all if they can help it; none of the leading candidates address the crisis on their official websites).
Back in July, Hillary Clinton mentioned increasing aid to refugees. Indeed, the official Iraq policy outlined on her website states:
As our forces redeploy out of Iraq, Hillary would also organize a multi-billion dollar international effort -- funded by a wide range of donor states -- under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to address the needs of Iraqi refugees.Her website also mentions funds for reconstruction and aid to NGOs able to best assist the Iraqi people.
Meanwhile, Barack Obama's website is a little more specific. In addition to a detailed six-page plan attached as a .pdf (two pages of which are dedicated to rehashing the over-exposed fact that the candidate did not support the war in 2003), the Obama website states:
Obama believes that America has a moral and security responsibility to confront Iraq’s humanitarian crisis — two million Iraqis are refugees; two million more are displaced inside their own country. Obama will form an international working group to address this crisis. He will provide at least $2 billion to expand services to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries, and ensure that Iraqis inside their own country can find a safe-haven.In his more detailed plan, he also makes reference to reconstruction aid, as well as the U.S. responsibility to its Iraqi allies.
These are some good, if vague, ideas -- but why are they relegated to the candidates' websites when they ought to be the subject of intense debates surrounding every primary? Why are we still hearing the same-old, same-old from leaders on both sides instead of a real discussion of durable, long-term solutions? Where are the detailed plans for economic recovery and humanitarian relief?
Bush may be a lame duck at this point, but we won't stop trying to steer political discourse away from useless finger-pointing on whether the war was initially right or wrong. The mistakes are known. Now it's time to be realistic about the challenges, and focus on the solutions.