Monday, September 17, 2007

On Iraq: Shocking stupidity and awesome responsibility

I think most of my readers know me but even if you don’t, all you have to do is read my blog to know I have an opinion on just about everything. So it’s been uncomfortable and strange not feeling like I could form an opinion about whether or not the U.S. should pull out of Iraq. I’m clear on whether we should have invaded in the first place; I have been since way back in 2003 when I hung a “No War in Iraq” poster in my window and marched in demonstrations to no avail. (It’s nice to be vindicated, I guess, though I don’t really care for how that’s come about.) It’s a lot more complicated now. Clearly, leaving after creating chaos and dependence isn’t benign in the same way as not going in the first place.

I’ve been active in Move On in the past but I have to say I don’t particularly care for their position here. I’m a devout Democrat, but I don’t care for the positions of most democrats in Congress or Presidential candidates either. There’s something smarmy and political about rhetoric that says it’s the Iraqis' fault if they can’t pull themselves together to meet benchmarks, that the U.S. isn’t going to “hold their hands” forever. They didn’t make this particular mess; we did. They aren’t responsible for this so how can we hold them responsible? With all the might of the great United States, we don’t seem to have the power to fix it, so how can we expect that, after being factionalized and traumatized by years of savage war, they should?

I do think this is a quagmire and we will need to get out eventually. I don’t want to see more of our soldiers die. But I don’t want to see any more Iraqis die either. Sometimes Americans don’t bother to think about that little detail. Most of them are innocents. Just like most of our soldiers.

Some time ago, I read an article, “America's final mission in Iraq” by Chaim Kaufmann (February 11, 2007) in the Editorial section of the Boston Globe, and posted it as a link on my blog even though I still didn’t know quite what to write about Iraq. So many months later, it’s on my mind. I think it deserves more attention than it got. (Link to the full article under “Sources,” below.)

“At a certain tipping point, it is no longer possible for any authority in either community to muster a constituency determined and strong enough to suppress the ethnic cleansers emanating from their own community. Beyond that point, the war cannot be stopped until the warring communities are substantially separated. It no longer matters how the war started, or even whether most members of both communities actually want to wage an ethnic war. The ethnic cleansing will continue until nearly all mixed urban neighborhoods, towns, and rural districts have become unmixed, as forces representing whichever community is stronger in that locality kills or frightens away most members of the other. The eventual result is a de facto partition.”

”America still has one remaining military mission in Iraq whose completion is essential: refugee protection. Our 160,000 heavily-armed troops are more than enough to protect, transport, and resettle those Iraqis who have not yet become refugees but likely will as the civil war grinds toward completion. We should identify the 150 to 200 towns, villages, and urban districts that are most at risk for ethnic cleansing -- and sit on them until we can organize well-defended transport for those who wish to move.

The United States should do this because it is the right thing to do. Some people who might otherwise die at the hands of death squads will survive if US forces protect them long enough to relocate safely and without becoming desperately impoverished.”

One thing is clear: we need to do something different from what we’re doing. We ought not leave a power vacuum and no protection for ordinary Iraqis from the unbridled ethnic and religious conflict that is likely to occur in it.

We need to think out of the box. We need to accept responsibility for the unspeakable harm we’ve done, beg forgiveness and ask for the world’s help in setting things right. We need to act as a peacekeeping force, as Kaufmann suggests, or get one from countries that have not yet been involved. And we need to provide significant post war economic aid to rebuild what we’ve torn down.

Rebuilding our own tattered reputation may take longer to complete, but it too begins this way.


Anonymous said...

Well said, Soothsayer! You have captured many of my own thoughts and feelings about the Iraq situation. I am unnerved by nearly everyone who is speaking on the issue when it is clear that no one knows what to do. We have created a disaster that will take many generations and vast resources to heal. Any course of action we take now will have negative consequences; there will be no victory in Iraq! Kaufman's article makes an excellent point - we must care for those who fear for their lives and have nowhere to go, especially those who have tried to help our military and civilian efforts. Thanks to him - and to you - for speaking truth to power.

The Collegium of Officers of the United Church of Christ has released A Pastoral Letter on the Iraq War that speaks to some of these concerns, and is trying to collect 100,000 signatures on a petition to end the war, but to take responsibility for rebuiding the broken country and seeking peace in the middle east. The link is htpp://


jessica said...

great post...

over the last several months i've had alarmingly frequent thoughts about my seventh grade american history class. i see the text in my mind's eye, as well as the pale blue carpeting and the non-descript attire of (not a favorite, by any means) mr. mitberg. i hear the disdain in his voice during lectures. i see his face turn redder and redder as he showers the front row not only with volume and emotion but occasional "spitdrops" as well, indicative of the energy behind his words. but more importantly, i wonder what that text will say in ten (or fifteen, or twenty...) more years; how this utter mess will be recorded. i wonder how the mr. mitbergs will teach it, what exactly they will say to the children. and i wonder if it will be the truth.

soothsayer said...

Thanks NM! I have faith that lots of Americans are aware of our responsibility here. I've signed the petition!

soothsayer said...

...and will the students learn the lessons so that subsequent repetitions can be avoided?

Thanks for reading Jessica, and for sharing your thoughts.


lydia said...

Look, I'm finally commenting on your blog! :-) Hope all is well with you and your family...

Anyway, I understand your feelings. As a fellow "Opinionator", I've also found myself becoming uneasily silent when the subject of the Iraq War is brought up. I just don't know what to say or think anymore and I'm fed up with both the Republicans and, perhaps more disappointingly, the Democrats. Now that the war is unpopular, it's a common complaint that the Republicans care much more about proving themselves right than about actually doing the right thing. But, honestly, I see our guys doing the same thing. With most Americans now convinced that the war is a disaster, most Democrats just seem content to sit back and gloat about having been right all along (even if plenty of them voted for the war initially...) instead of actually coming up with workable solutions to help the Iraqis. In much of the dialogue about the war I see in the media, if a conservative brings up the possible consequences of pulling out of Iraq, the response is generally something along the lines of "Why should we listen to you? You got us in to this mess in the first place!" instead of an actual handling of this very valid concern. I'm no republican but I can't say that question has never crossed MY mind.
In a Globe article I read about the congressional veto of Bush's latest spending bill, Nancy Pelosi was quoted condemning Bush's high defense spending, saying she'd rather see money go towards domestic issues, like improving healthcare and creating jobs than be dumped into this disastrous war. With most Americans fed up with the draining effect the war has had on our already struggling economy, it's a great little quote and I'm sure she knew that when she said it--as a good politician, she knows that she's going to score a lot of points in the current political climate by basically saying "Healthcare=good, war in Iraq=bad". Problem is, that doesn't actually mean anything. We've already seen that when the war isn't adequately funded, it doesn't exactly mean that we use fewer Big Fancy Weapons or deploy fewer troops--it just means that we deploy our troops with inadequate training and tinfoil for body armor. I don't want to see any more American taxpayers' money get sucked into pointless war spending either but then we either need to find a way to direct or resources in a way that is effective and helpful to the Iraqis, or we need to pull out of Iraq altogether. But if we're going to stay in Iraq, we have to fund our operations, not send our servicemen and servicewomen over there to get blown to bits in Humvees. As my dad says, shit or get off the pot.
I don't know what the answers are but some of the people in power need to at least start taking the questions seriously. Mr. Kaufmann makes some good points and maybe they could be the beginning of a solution. But one thing's for sure, we need some Democratic politicans--and, for that matter, some Republican ones too--that are concerned enough about the wellbeing of Iraqis and Americans alike to tackle the difficult issues instead of just coming up with politically savvy soundbytes and saying "I told you so."

soothsayer said...

Hi Lydia, Good to hear from you!

I think you are absolutely right.

I went to this PR training yesterday for work where I learned how to do the soundbyte thing and the "bridging " thing-- where you acknowledge the question in an interview and then change the subject and return to your predetermined messages. It's smart and it works. Politicians have gotten very good at staying on message, which helps get them elected. Now I want to see what they can do to address the problem since that's why we need people in office to begin with.

Now that you've ripped off the bandaid, I look forward to many future comments. Hope you are well.