Posted by: sean | November 21, 2005

On standing down

Last week, Vietnam veteran and Pennsylvania Congressman Murtha, who is the ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, gave a speech in which he outlined the reasoning behind his proposed motion to redeploy all American forces out of Iraq “at the earliest praticable date…” maintaining “a quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S. Marines…in the region.”

The reasons he gives, which are stated in his proposal, are as follows:

…Congress and the American People have not been shown clear, measurable progress toward establishment of stable and improving security in Iraq or of a stable and improving economy in Iraq, both of which are essential to “promote the emergence of a democratic government”;

…additional stabilization in Iraq by U, S. military forces cannot be achieved without the deployment of hundreds of thousands of additional U S. troops, which in turn cannot be achieved without a military draft;

…more than $277 billion has been appropriated by the United States Congress to prosecute U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan;

…as of the drafting of this resolution, 2,079 U.S. troops have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom;

…U.S. forces have become the target of the insurgency,

…according to recent polls, over 80% of the Iraqi people want U.S. forces out of Iraq;

…polls also indicate that 45% of the Iraqi people feel that the attacks on U.S. forces are justified;

…due to the foregoing, Congress finds it evident that continuing U.S. military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the people of Iraq, or the Persian Gulf Region, which were cited in Public Law 107-243 as justification for undertaking such action;

I won’t even go into the Republican response to his motion, which was childish and counterproductive, but probably smart politics; however, Murtha’s reasoning deserves to be looked at honestly.

It has long been argued that a premature withdrawal of American troops would lead to an all out civil war in Iraq. It is hard to say, however, how accurate this idea is. It is entirely possible that the only thing holding the Iraqi people together is a common enemy: the Americans. (I am immediately reminded of the Syrian forces that stopped the war in Lebanon and then subsequently occupied the country for a decade and a half, as well as the comment made to me by a Palestinian born and raised in Lebanon, who said she hoped the Syrians wouls stay, because she didn’t want another civil war to break out.) However, there is also the distinct possibility that Murtha is correct and US forces are the destabilizing force in the region. If there were no coalition forces to resist, there would be no need for a nationalist Iraqi insurgency, and those who continued to fight the Iraqi government would be seen as sectarian belligerents or religious zealots instead of nationalist freedom fighters.

But I’m not really sure that that’s the real question we should be looking at. The important question is that of security versus democracy. If what we are really interested in is Iraqi stability, then we should have left Saddam Hussein in charge. But we purport to be interested in more than just security; the post-invasion rhetoric has been largely about liberating Iraqis and fostering democracy in the Middle East. Granted, there is a certain moral responsiblity inherent in the pottery barn motto of “you break it, you bought it,” which would suggest that we have an obligation to clean up the mess we made. But there comes a time when even if it is our fault, we have to ask ourselves if we are only making matters worse by trying to clean up our mess.

And besides, to go back to the idea of democracy, if Iraq is, in fact, a sovereign nation, that decision is not really ours to make in the first place. To my mind, there ought to be a national referendum during the December elections that asks each Iraqi voter, “should the coalition forces withdraw from Iraq?” If the answer is “yes,” then we should respect the Iraqi people’s wishes and withdraw as soon as possible. However, we should still offer to train Iraqi police and military forces in addition to teachers, engineers, and anyone else needed to help rebuild Iraq’s demolished infrastructure. This could be in somewhere like Kuwait or Qatar.

In the end, perhaps we should stand down, so the Iraqis can stand up.


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