Last month, we challenged Senator Barack Obama to update his Iraq policy position. Today we turn our attention to Senator John McCain.
Since the 2003 U.S. invasion, McCain has been a critic of the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq. McCain questioned U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's decision to deploy too few troops to win the peace, later calling him "one of the worst secretaries of defense in history." McCain condemned the U.S. treatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and worked to strengthen U.S. prohibitions on torture. When sectarian violence skyrocketed following the February 2006 Samarra bombing, McCain again called for an increase in troops. After Rumsfeld's resignation, President Bush finally came around to McCain's view, announcing the deployment of 20,000 additional U.S. troops as part of his "surge" strategy.
While McCain has established his credibility on military issues, many of the challenges facing Iraq today require progress on the civilian side. Gen. David Petraeus got it right when he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee early last year: "Some of the members of this committee have observed that there is no military solution to the problems of Iraq. They are correct. Ultimate success in Iraq will be determined by actions in the Iraqi political and economic arenas."
The estimated unemployment rate in Iraq is between 35 and 50 percent. By comparison, when U.S. unemployment hit 25 percent during the Great Depression, FDR declared a national emergency, establishing the Works Progress Administration to rapidly put people back to work. High unemployment can lead to civil unrest, poverty, and crime. In Iraq, it has been a major source of instability, making it easier for criminal gangs, insurgents, and militias to find recruits. As both military and civilian experts note, sustainable security requires sustainable job creation.
Sustainable security will also require an aggressive diplomatic effort in the region as proposed by the Iraq Study Group report. Instead, McCain's website proposes that the United States “bolster its regional military posture to make clear to Iran our determination to protect our forces and deter further Iranian intervention.” Yet a military deterrence-based strategy can only go so far and suggests an ongoing heavy troop commitment that is neither sustainable, nor in our best interest. McCain ought to reconsider the value of American diplomacy and peace-building, as recommended by former Secretary of State James Baker and former U.S. Representative Lee Hamilton.
McCain would further distinguish himself from President Bush by saying two words: "Iraqi refugees." To this day, neither Bush nor McCain have publicly acknowledged the humanitarian crisis facing millions of Iraqis. McCain's campaign website makes no mention of how he will respond to the needs of more than 2 million Iraqi refugees (the second largest refugee population in the world) and another 2.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq. Nor has McCain offered a plan to help more than 17 million Iraqis who do not have reliable access to clean water or the 4 million Iraqis who live in hunger or fear of starvation.
Freelance journalist Hanna Ingber Win writes: "While McCain has put the Iraq War at the center of his campaign, he studiously avoids any real discussion of the humanitarian crisis. His campaign has denied repeated requests for an interview on this topic."
Bush's former chief speechwriter Michael Gerson advises ending the silence. He writes: “Helping Iraqi refugees on a larger scale is not an embarrassing necessity [for the administration]. It is an opportunity to show consistency, humanitarian concern and constructive, long-term engagement in the Middle East.”
It's time for McCain to break his silence about the plight of Iraqi refugees, and start a conversation with the American people about how the United States can re-balance its policy in Iraq through effective diplomacy, development and peace-building.
Here at EPIC, we will continue to challenge both candidates to do much better.
Photo Caption: Senator John McCain gives a thumbs-up to his supporters. USA Today