Calling for Iraq’s militias to disband, whether it’s our call or the Baghdad government’s, may be like King George or the Continental Congress calling on the states to disband their militias. Lots of luck with that.
Iraq’s separate sects, peoples and provinces have far less in common than the original thirteen states.
Seen in this context, the debate over how long to stay in Iraq looks very different from the debate the press has framed. The picture we’re getting is that if we leave there will be chaos, genocide and further threats to our domestic security, and therefore discussion about leaving is political blather.
What is behind this? Does it mean that the Arab states, which have been saying for decades they want foreign powers out of their hair, have no responsibility for peace in Iraq? Does it mean we must continue to drain our treasury and abandon our social goals to keep the peace between Kurds, Turkmen and Sunni and Shia Arabs? Does it mean we must indefinitely guard Iraq’s borders against Iran? Does it mean we actually believe there will be a finite point in time when Al Qaeda can’t reconstitute itself in the Arab world?
What is wrong with the canonical view of Iraq is that developments
in Iraq — on the ground, as President Bush is fond of saying so deceptively— should dictate what happens next. That is clever by half. It sounds rational, but it is tricky. Developments on the ground are ephemeral, they don’t change the essential historical facts with which we and the Iraqis are dealing. We can spend the next one hundred years responding to developments on the ground and achieving very little. We invaded without historical perspective and we can’t extricate ourselves by responding to periodic reports from commanders “on the ground” who may or may not be trying to ingratiate themselves with the current occupant of the White House. The Bush Administration has sold us a distorting frame in which to view Iraq. The future is not in this or that development or trend; the future is in understanding the historic complexities and behaving as if we have some respect for them. We are engulfed in our own magic thinking about Iraq. There is no development or trend or statistical set that is going to provide a clear signal about anything. The British were selfishly wrong to create Iraq as it is constituted today. They did it for their own colonial convenience, not for the Iraqis, just as we invaded for our purposes, and to claim now, as the White and John McCain do, that developments will justify a decadent and debasing policy is disgraceful, and indeed murderous. There is no easy solution, no foreign imposition that is going to solve the problem. It is, as it was, a Muslim problem exacerbated by foreign meddling.
If we ran our domestic affairs by responding to the facts on the ground, what would happen to our ideals, our social goals, our responsibilities to the disenfranchised? Such a notion is intellectually bankrupt.
The comparison has been made between our so-called duty to stay in Iraq and the prolonged presence of our troops in Germany, Japan and Korea. Japan made war on us and committed genocide in China. Germany attacked our allies and embarked on genocide. As for Korea, we got into it for better or worse because of John Foster Dulles’ discredited domino theory. Accepting those facts, it remains questionable whether we should be staying so long, and it is only Ron Paul and one or two other “fringe” candidates who have had the moral fortitude to raise questions about this.
How do these circumstances argue for a prolonged occupation of Iraq? And even if they do, can we afford it? Can we afford to keep on dancing to Al Qaeda’s tune? Our politicians are quick to say Medicare and Social Security are bankrupting us; isn’t the Iraq war? And if we stay, can we afford to prevail in Afghanistan? And what about the severe stress our soldiers are experiencing? What about breakouts of violence elsewhere? And, perhaps most importantly, what about our continued denial of the realities of Middle Eastern history?
When CNN’s Michael Ware, a blunt and diligent reporter, tells us there will be hell to pay if we leave in the next year or two, there is no reason to doubt him. But does it mean we shouldn’t? We have paid a hellish price morally and financially for going in, we and the Iraqis will pay a hellish price when we leave, but at the end of the day there are other issues to address, including our future as a prosperous nation. We have been foolhardy and we have unleashed dark forces, but we have no reason to disbelieve Arab and other world diplomats who say our presence is stirring the pot.
It’s almost certain a majority of Muslims regard our occupation of Iraq as another Western crusades against Islam. Ultimately the Arabs must accept responsibility for achieving what they have said they want, control of their own destiny. We regarded foreign meddling in our civil war as a hostile act; why should we suppose the Arabs don’t feel similarly?
There may be bloodshed and chaos when we go. There may be bloodshed and chaos if we stay. But that’s not how our discourse should be framed. We have larger interests and concerns, and so do the Muslims. A financially weakened America does no one any good, and the Iraq occupation is weakening us.—DM