How long should our troops stay in Iraq? Maybe we should ask the Iraqis this question instead of debating it among ourselves. After all, it’s their country. Next year, when the recently elected delegates have created a constitution, and Iraqis get to vote again, we might as well add this question to their ballot: Do you want all foreign troops to leave Iraq as soon as possible?
A referendum. Democracy in action.
As for our own debate: apparently we need to be there to guarantee security. Neocon court historians of empire, like Brit nabob booster boob Niall Ferguson, decree we can’t withdraw because there’d be a civil war.
Oh yeah? These days, we look and act more like a threat to peace than a guarantor of security. The latest news reports say we’re going to encircle Baghdad and divide it into smaller sections so 40,000 Iraqi and 10,000 U.S. troops can conduct house-to-house searches to destroy combatants. Is this Fallujah all over again? We smashed two-thirds of that city of 300,000 and killed a whole lot of civilians to root out a few hundred insurgents. We had to destroy the village to save it.
The only way to stop the insurgency would be to kill the 80% Sunnis who support the insurgency. We can’t do that, so anything else is pretty useless. Why would 40,000 Iraqi troops want to tackle insurgents hand-to-hand? They’re Shiites, that’s why, aching to polish off Sunnis. Sounds like a great way to start a civil war instead of stopping one.
It’s time to get the heck out, before we get blamed for that, too. The sooner we leave, the sooner the insurgents won’t have us to insurge against. Maybe they’ll still blow up stuff, but at least we won’t be the reason.
Anyway, who are to prevent others from having their civil war? We had ourselves a big fat one a while ago, a painful process in our own nation-building. If the Iraqis need their own civil war, let them have it. It’s their country. Our war cost more than 100,000 Iraqi lives – what will a civil war cost Iraq? Maybe 10,000 or 20,000 casualties: much cheaper than what we cost them.
If they want to split up Iraq, why not let them? The Kurds are going their own way already. Let them. Turkey won’t invade a Kurdish state; they wouldn’t want to say goodbye to their chances of being invited into Europe. If there were a Kurdish state, we’d have at least one friend in the neighborhood we could count on besides Israel.
If the Shiites and the Sunnis choose to squabble over the rest of Iraq, let them. It’s their country. The Shiites need to settle scores; the Sunnis need to realize they’re a minority whose days of bully-rule are over.
If our troops left, our big companies would probably pull out, too. Let them. Get Bechtel and Halliburton out of there. The contracts for rebuilding Iraq should go to Iraqi businesses, not to U.S. companies. Local suppliers have more reason and motivation than our companies to rebuild Iraq, who seem to be there mostly for the opportunity to overcharge. Let’s give — or lend — Iraqi businesses the dollars we save by pulling out. Iraqis can do a whole lot more with our bucks than our troops.
We’re not good at being occupiers or ‘liberators.’ Nobody is. Napoleon wasn’t. The Brits weren’t. The French in Algiers weren’t. We can tell ourselves we’re liberators till we’re blue in the face, but do the Iraqis think we are? Just the other day we detained Abdul Hamid, the leader of Iraq’s largest Sunni political party. Went in there with stun bombs and bullets, blazing away. Bagged his head and tied his hands. It just so happens that his party, the Islamic Party, opposes the new Baghdad offensive because they believe the security forces will disregard the rights of innocent Iraqis, the way occupiers do. Could they be right?
Later he was released and the military admitted its mistake. But Abdul Hamid refused this apology in the Arab media. He said he was humiliated when US soldiers held their boots on his head for 20 minutes. He didn’t feel liberated. In fact, he accused American soldiers of liberating items from his home.
Countless Iraqis whose homes have been raided complain of money, jewelry and other belongings looted by our soldiers — besides doors and walls busted down and kids traumatized. Often the wrong homes are broken into. Most of the house raids turn up nothing — 70%, according to one officer. The International Committee of the Red Cross reports being told by military intelligence officers that between 70 and 90% of those we detain are held by mistake.
None of this endears us to the Iraqis, whom we’re supposed to be protecting instead of jailing.
Meanwhile the country is going to hell in a hand-basket and we don’t know how to spend the money we’re supposed to be spending on infrastructure. In 1991, there were 1,800 health-care centers in Iraq. That number is down to half. Today, Iraq’s child malnutrition rate is equal to Burundi’s, a country decimated by more than a decade of war. The health of Iraqis is compromised by a lack of dependable electricity; shortages of potable water; non-repaired sewage systems; outbreaks of hepatitis, cholera and typhoid fever, particularly in southern Iraq. Not a picture of “liberation.”
If we’re not helping the Iraqis much, we’re helping ourselves even less. We keep on dying there.
Listen, we’ve done our job in Iraq. We did it when we toppled Saddam, we did it when we caught him, we did it when we organized the election. What more can we do? Once upon a time we thought Iraq would serve as “flypaper” for all terrorists, gathering them where our superior firepower and tactics could whack the lot of them. But federal counterterrorism officials now foresee “the bleed out” of “hundreds or thousands of Iraq-trained jihadists back to their home countries throughout the Middle East and Western Europe.” Having boosted terrorist recruitment significantly, it’s time to stop our contribution to the cause of Jihad. (We might even think about leaving Afghanistan, too, now that we’ve restored their opium trade. We’ve secured our drug supply, why stick around for the oil?)
The only purpose our troops in Iraq can still serve, is to provide some wily Democrat a platform to run on for President. In a May Gallup poll, three-fourths of the respondents who rated Iraq as their top concern, wanted immediate withdrawal. 64% of conservative Democrats in a Pew survey want the troops brought home ASAP. 57% of Americans told CNN/USA Today/Gallup the Iraq war was not worth fighting. These numbers will only increase. Howard Dean, here’s your second chance; this time, many more people will listen to you.
Some of them might even be in the House of Representatives. Recently, for the first time since the war started, a modest amendment, introduced by Rep. Lynn Woolsey of California in May this year, asked President Bush to devise a plan for withdrawal. 123 Democrats and five Republicans voted for it. They stuck their fingers in the wind; they can feel where it’s blowing.
Meanwhile, our country produces toys like the bombed-out dollhouse of Ever Sparkle, Inc., where grenades replace salt and pepper shakers, ammo boxes sit in the kitchen and G.I. Joe stands on the balcony with his bazooka. I kid you not. The World Peace Keepers Battle Station comes complete with M-16s, grenades and sandbags so that kids three years and older can learn the real meaning of peace.
Why are we still there? In our “security” efforts and “defense” adventures, we commit the all-too-American mistake of confusing swagger with toughness. Who are we kidding? Our presence in Iraq has blown up any myth the world may have had about us as a nation of “good guys.” Now everybody knows that, given half a chance, we can brutalize and torture like any other barbaric nation. Gitmo and Abu Ghraib have made us smell like war criminals in the nostrils of the world.
Practically speaking, all that our war on terror has produced, is more terrorists. Instead of fewer. Some war. Some success.
The Iraqis know how take care of themselves better than we can. Thanks to our money, the UN, and the Iraqis themselves, their education system is improving. Their 300,000 teachers can now earn 300,000-400,000 (200-270 dollars) instead of the old average monthly salary of 10,000 dinars (around two-three dollars). Retired teachers want their old jobs back, if only for a year or two, so they can qualify for improved pensions. UNICEF and USAID are retooling infrastructure and training teachers to boost Iraqi education beyond where it was 25 years ago. “Iraq’s educational system used to be among the best in the region,” the UN Development Program (UNDP) said in its 2004 survey of living conditions in Iraq. Since 1980, war and sanctions have taken their toll so that illiteracy is now widespread in rural areas, and among girls in particular — but a $5.8m USAID program aims to turn things around at 84 “model” schools. A modest $70,000 per school will demonstrate what can be done and encourage future donors to pitch in. Teachers are sent to neighboring Jordan for training, which they then share with colleagues back home. They consistently spend evenings in optional workshops, a USAID program director said. “It’s the first time someone’s investing in them.” UNICEF is using a “double cascade” approach whereby 25 people selected by Iraq’s ministry of education go through a six-week program before training 440 others who train still more in turn. Its Accelerated Learning Program aims to provide out-of-school youth with six years of primary education in three years.
Maybe we can use some of these methods in our own blighted public schools.
What we certainly need is some hard-nosed education about the uses of American power. We may be good at winning wars, but we’re lousy at winning the peace. When it comes to the peace, you don’t need soldiers; you need NGOs and the UN and our excellent dollars.
It’s time to get real and put our money where our soldiers are. Bucks in, privates out. Let’s ask the Iraqis to vote on this, and when they say they want us out, our leaders will have all the cover they need to leave with our dignity intact. The mighty sound of a collective American sigh of relief will drown out all qualms. If the Administration is serious about bringing freedom to Iraq, they’d do well to jump at the chance of an honorable out supplied by Iraq’s voters, freely exercising their democratic choice.