Just because Bush was wrong doesn't mean the troops should come home

Omagh, a very Irish terrorist attackDepending on who you speak to, the British have occupied Northern Ireland for over 800 years. Since 1921, when Ireland was partitioned into North and South, the British have been locked into a bitter conflict between Catholic separatists and Protestant unionists. Depending on who you speak to, they are either wrong to be there and fomenting the “troubles” or they are right to be there and are keeping a violent conflict at bay.

The 1921 partition kicked off a vicious internecine civil war until 1923. Both sides committed awful atrocities, the legacy of which still over-shadows the gradual and grudging peace process.

The British may be wrong to be there. Maybe they should never have gone. But no-one doubts the bloodshed that would result if they left prematurely.

Now we have Iraq.

Depending on who you speak to, the Americans have illegally occupied Iraq since 2003. Since 2003, the US has been locked into a bitter conflict between the minority Sunni who supported Saddam Hussein, and the majority Shia, who didn’t. Depending on who you speak to, the US was either wrong to be there and is fomenting the “troubles” or they are right to be there and are keeping a violent conflict at bay.

The 2003 invasion has kicked off a vicious internecine war long held in check by an overriding dictatorship. Both sides are committing awful atrocities and this legacy over-shadows all attempts at creating a lasting peace.

George W Bush and his fellow travellers may very well be wrong to have ever ordered the invasion – history will judge that decision. But now the US is there and Iraq is a tortured hell-hole.

Just because Bush is discredited doesn’t mean that others should compound his error by leaving an entire nation to find its lowest level. History will judge a US exit far more severely than its entrance.

When the “great” powers of the colonial era fled Africa they took with them all their technical know-how of how a nation should be run. The legacy has been decades of barbarity and unrest as sovereign nations come ungummed. Events are judging the ex-colonial powers badly for this incredible neglect of responsibility.

Iraq is not a video game. Just because you don’t want to play anymore doesn’t mean the game stops and everyone goes home. If you think that the murder and mayhem is unspeakable now you should consider how bad it will be when no-one is there to attempt to hold the protagonists apart.

The US may be wrong to be there. Maybe they should never have gone. But do you doubt the bloodshed that will result if they leave prematurely?

14 replies »

  1. *sigh*

    As I’ve said before, it’s always good to see how things look from another angle. I’m one of the people you’re talking about here – it was a horrific fuck-up to invade, a point I made loudly (not that anybody was listening to me, obviously) for several months before the war began. It’s been mismanaged since the “planning” stages (still waiting for evidence that there was ever an actual plan). History will show that we took a horrible situation and managed to make it worse – congratulations to Bush for finding a way to make Saddam Hussein look good in comparison. And it’s getting worse, not better.

    So all this naturally wants to make me get out (and I’m not even venturing into the economic questions associated with how much cash we’re continuing to waste over there and the opportunity cost associated with those dollars).

    All this said, what does happen if we leave? Nothing good, to be sure – a stable radical theocracy might be the BEST-case scenario. But as long as Bush is in the saddle, we have a lose-lose on our hands.

    I guess this makes it especially important that we elect a successor who’s either a brilliant military mind or the greatest diplomat who ever lived. Do we see this person among the ranks of the declared?

  2. “Do we see this person among the ranks of the declared?”

    Hell no. No-one in either party’s declared candidates qualifies in either regard. Which is part of the reason that Republicans are looking toward former Senator and actor Fred Thompson or Newt Gingrich. I don’t know who’s supposedly waiting in the wings to step in when voter fatigue kicks in for all the various Democratic candidates, but the Democrats definitely need a backup plan.

  3. Which is why it’s really important to ensure that – whoever wins – bringing the troops home isn’t just some gut-level response to obliterating Bush’s contribution to US political history.

    And the only candidate who may have some idea of the complexities involved is McCain, who seems to have lost the race already.

  4. Once upon a time I’d have agreed about McCain, maybe. But he’s clearly decided that Bob Dole had it figured out in 1996 and has been running around the country like a gerbil on roofies hiking his skirt for anything that vaguely resembles a Wide Right vote. And the way he’s let Bush just destroy his manhood … I have no words for it.

    So no, I don’t consider McCain to even be a longshot option at this point.

    His case does point to an ugly artifact of our system, though. His strength was in the center – he polled better among independents and Dems than he did Republicans, which suggests that he’d be a strong centrist candidate in the general election.

    But you can’t win the general election if you can’t get nominated by the party, and the GOP nominating process is dominated by social conservatives, who hate him. So he feels like he has to do his Panderella act to get in the game. Of course, even if that works, he’s screwed himself with the center by then.

  5. The Northern Ireland parallel is interesting, whythawk, but in fact I am one who does have some doubts about what would have happened there if the British had left “prematurely” (1921? 1947? 1980? now?). Since there is no way of conducting a controlled experiment on history, we can only speculate whether the presence of British troops at any point inhibited or increased bloodshed.

    My unfounded speculation is that, whenever the British might have left, the total number of deaths from 1921 to now might well have been approximately the same as it actually has been. In addition, it might possibly have instigated a massive migration of Unionists to the island of Britain (the home of their 16th-century ancestors), and the six counties might have rejoined Ireland. Not pretty, certainly, but did British troops change the long-term death toll? Perhaps not.

    Iraq, I would argue, is different from Northern Ireland in many ways. Here are two: The occupier is not sending colonists

  6. First time S&R reader here. Enjoying the site.

    You say: “History will judge a US exit far more severely than its entrance.”

    Well first of all, you have no idea how history will judge a US exit. We don’t know how many of our troops might continue to die, and we don’t know exactly what will happen when we do pull out. So it is dangerous to say what historians will say in the future because we have no idea what that future looks like. Take Vietnam for example. Does history judge our Vietnam exit severely? With fairly extensive knowledge of that war I think that the actual war is judged far more severely than our pullout.

    Secondly, who cares if history looks at it unfavorably? Is that really our biggest concern right now? Like I said earlier, we actually have very little idea what will happen when we pull out… Yes we can, and should speculate, but we don’t for sure. All we know is that 1) we are losing American lives more rapidly than before, and 2) they don’t want us there. America tends to be arrogant and presume that we know how to best fix that country, but the truth of the matter is that the Iraqis don’t trust us, and at this point, the Iraqi people don’t actually want us occupying Iraq anymore.

  7. If we leave the iraqis will continue to kill each other,but soon enough they will work it out and more then likely a strong man will rise up and bring order with an iron fist.
    We can still watch from Kuwait if we really have to return.
    Our presence makes it harder for Iraqis to work out there problems.

    Life is dangerous and death is inevitable. The longer we stay the more likely it becomes that the Iraqis will unite against us. Then we will definately have a dangerous enemy.
    There should be a vote by the people of Iraq on what the US should do. Then whatever happens the Iraqis can live with the fact that they chose it.

  8. Um, may I mention a few examples from recent history where this approach hasn’t worked very well. In the DRC a war at least the size of WWII has been waging for five years, at least as many people have died. No-one has really bothered much with it. In Zimbabwe a deliberate policy of non-intervention has resulted in the catastrophic destruction of an entire nation. Darfur gets all the press, but I don’t notice anyone doing anything about it. Russia in Chechnya anyone?

    The point about Iraq is this: it didn’t happen by accident; the US is directly responsible for the chaos shrugging your shoulders and wiping your hands of the whole thing is irresponsible. Who cares if they don’t like you, they didn’t like you before. You are already there; if you leave then Iran and Syria will put soldiers in; then Saudi will, pretty soon you’ll have a large regional conflict.

    It is already your problem whether you like it or not. If I rush over and chop off your leg promising that I’ll improve on the existing model, then get frustrated half-way through with you biting on my arm and complaining about the botched surgery I still have a responsibility to fix the mistake I made. And the US has a responsibility to sort out Iraq.

  9. Whythawk, you say we have a responsibility to out Iraq, but what does it mean to sort out Iraq??

    I mean what are we supposed to do, just continue to throw money trying to build a free economy and a democracy that they don’t even like?

    The problem is that we think we know whats best for the region. Our values, our schools, our system of government. But the Iraqis are fighting us tooth and nail every step of the way. So how do we help them? I just don’t think we have an answer. Its easy to SAY let’s help them. But tangibly, maybe the best thing we can do is get our visible presence out of there (i.e. soldiers); and instead bring in teachers and Red Cross volunteers and engineers etc. That seems like it would be much more effective then what we are doing now.

    Pulling out our troops doesn’t mean we stop helping the Iraqis.

  10. It is true, whythawk, that the US is completely responsible for what has happened in Iraq, and I am troubled by many Americans’ tendency to blame the victim, a disturbing note of exasperation: “What’s wrong with those Iraqis that they can’t get it together so we can leave?” So amen to your note of counterexasperation.

    Your point is also well taken that it’s wrong to assume that nothing can be done and to wash our hands of it all. That hasn’t worked out well in Darfur either.

    My point is that any military solution in Iraq is doomed to defeat, that it will merely extend the time of killing, and that in Iraq (as in every one of these other cases) an international diplomatic solution is the only way out

  11. I don’t think that Iraq will be a US-style democracy any time soon, and if that is the US intention then by all measures you’ve failed even worse than you think. However leaving and letting diplomats get on with it fails to acknowledge the very real dangers that NGOs and diplomats face in a country where kidnapping, torturing and beheading non-combatants is common practice.

    I don’t imagine for a moment that the US can simply exert sufficient force to turn Iraqis into model Americans. But you can exert sufficient force to protect the diplomats and aid workers attempting to bring about a stable and lasting peace, as well as train Iraqis to protect that peace once it is achieved. And you do owe that much to the country.

  12. No, kidnapping, torturing and beheading is not a common practice. They kidnap and torture when they are mad. In this case, they are mad at the United States.

    See here’s where I think the biggest misconception lies about the Iraqis, and maybe just Arabs in general. They don’t hate the West just because we’re the West. They hate our foreign policies and they hate the way we try to run things in the Middle East (you don’t have to agree with their opinion, but that is their opinion). They only behead us and torture us because they want us out. They’re not just some twisted culture that enjoys that stuff… rather, they are a people who are resorting to desperate measures to try and get their point across that they want our military and our influence out of their country.

  13. Sounds like the Star Trek Next Generation “Prime Directive”: they’re not primitive savages with a corrupt and violent culture, they just express themselves in a way that our primitive and regressive society cannot understand.

    And decades of abuse under Saddam Hussein (and other sundry regional despots) has had no impact on the people living there. Just like in South Africa where a vicious and bloodthirsty autocracy has given way to wonder, wine and roses. And only the most aggressive and violent “peacetime” society in the world.

    Perhaps rape is just the way that sensitive and caring South African men express their confusion and despair about their poverty.

    Please note that the Iraqis spend more time killing each other than they do US soldiers. Are they killing each other to express their rage and confusion against the US presence, or is something else going on that the US is just a participant in – and may have catalysed?