Baker-Hamilton on Iraq and the need to change course
Panel: Bush's Iraq policies have failed ... uh, duh...
Gates says U.S. isn't winning Iraq war ... no kidding?
Panel Urges Basic Shift in U.S. Policy in Iraq ... haven't we been saying this for months?
The fact of the matter is, having made a huge mess in a country we should have left alone, we are now stuck. If we pull out, Iraq seems sure to descend into a really nasty civil war. If we stay, we get dragged into the really nasty civil war, and lose a lot more American lives. Either way, it seems pretty much inevitable that large numbers of Iraqis are going to lose theirs.
So what can we do?
It's pretty clear to me that the longer we stay, the worse it is going to be. Violence against people perceived as collaborators is at an all time high. That's what much of reported sectarian violence is about -- it's more the ones cooperating with the US vs the ones resisting what they perceive as an occupation -- more than sunni vs shi'a. Existing political tensions between the former ruling Sunni minority and the Shia majority, as well as religious differences only exacerbate the situation, but the underlying cause is the continued presence of American combat troops in Iraq.
The longer we stay, the greater the attempts to get us to leave, and to pressure our collaborators, will become. If we leave in three years, it will be worse than if we leave in two years. If we leave in two years, it will be worse than if we leave in one. The sooner we can begin to withdraw the sooner Iraq can begin to heal.
It is probably not a good idea to simply leave a vacuum. The Arab states, or the UN should probably send peace keeping forces to the country in an attempt to minimize the bloodshed, but what really needs to happen is something along the lines of Truth and Reconcilliation a la South Africa. Iraq has lived for decades under a ruthless military dictator and the wounds from that time are still festering. Two wars with America and one occupation later, and the wounds are becoming life-threatening. Only by a national reconciliation process will the country be able to heal and put the past behind it. Otherwise, simmering tensions will surely erupt in ten, twenty, thirty years as they did in the former Yugoslavia.
As much as I think the US ought to make feasible this sort of effort with monetary contributions, I also think that we need to stay out of the process. It must be 100% genuine and 100% Iraqi, with no possibility of a perception of outside interference.
As and after we have withdrawn we need to make reparations to the Iraqi people. I'm not talking throwing some money at American contractors... money that never gets translated into project that improve the quality of life for Iraqi people. I mean rebuilding the country's infrastructure, providing scholarships for Iraqis who want to study in American universities, especially Iraqis who want to study medicine, engineering, chemistry, business administration, etc. We owe Iraq a lot after supporting Hussein, the first Iraq war, ten years of sanctions, and the second Iraq war. Rather than trying to dominate them with force and threats, we should win their trust with generosity.
And we shouldn't expect to be met with smiling faces, rather we can expect to be greeted with suspicion and mistrust for many, many years to come. The Iraqis aren't going to forget what we did to them any more than the Iranians forget the Mossadegh and the Shah. If we take the steps to atone for our treatment of their country, they and other people's who rightfully view the US as a self-interested bully, will slowly rediscover respect for us.
There is an awful lot that is good about America -- from our Constitution with its freedoms, particuarly freedom of speech and religion, to an insistence on due process in the courts and checks and balances in federal and states governments, and a individualism that has historically resulted in the most class fluid society in the world. But that beauty and moral high ground has been crowded out by our unconscionable foreign policy since WWII, both in countering the spread of communism and in ensuring access to the world's oil reserves and other natural resources.
I know the deplorable conditions in many countries with rich natural resources cannot be laid solely at the feet of multi-national corporations and the countries that back them up -- indigenous mismanagement and corruption has played a vital role. And I know that people will say that only developed nations had the expertise, wealth, and technology to be able to develop those resources, which may well be true. But it remains the case that we have developed natural resources without at the same time developing the countries where those natural resources are located, we have protected our own access and ability to continue developing those resources at the cost of human dignity and at the price of huge amounts of human sufferring. It would have been better to help those countries build the infrastructure, manufacturing base, techonology sector, etc, to exploit their own resources themselves. Would we have been less wealthy -- in terms of dollars, yes. In terms of our contribution to human welfare, no. In terms of friends and allies -- definately not.
Our foreign policy has concentrated on material wealth over human dignity and the importance of building allies through generosity for too long. Iraq would be a good place to start changing course.