Posted by: sean | January 8, 2007

On Iraq and the Hippocratic oath

James Traub’s post over at TPM Cafe’s America Abroad reflects some of the misgivings and ambivalence that I’ve felt about a full American withdrawal from Iraq.

At least seven months ago the atrocities in Haditha helped me decide that the US was doing more harm than good in Iraq. I read about how Americans had become just one more militia in Iraq, killing Iraqis.

The choice was a hard one. And I still had my doubts, despite the convincing prose of Luttwak’s decision (two years ago) that we should leave:

American forces continue to suffer casualties in combat against factions that should be confronting one another instead. Perhaps what the new Iraqi state needs in order to achieve stability is precisely a certain amount of civil war. Preventing it may impede a natural and perhaps very desirable political evolution. Americans would not today be happier if European Great Powers, horrified by the carnage of our own Civil War, had enforced an armistice between North and South that might endure still between two feeble states.

Because even if Iraq needed to get a civil war out of its system, or dissolve itself in the process, who’s to say that it would ever end? The war between the North and South of Sudan lasted for decades; sectarian bloodshed in Lebanon, where I live part of the year, was curbed only with Syria’s heavy-handed and often violent intervention. Or we could look at Somalia.

At the end of the day though, thinking that we could “fix Iraq” is what got America into this mess in the first place. Taking a long hard look at how things currently stand in Iraq and how little we know about the country, it would be hard to convince me that we can do, above all, anything but harm there.

This also brings up the question of who should decide whether we stay or go. Should it be the American people? Should it be the American government? What about the Iraqis? Should it be the government or the people in that country?

I’m inclined to believe that it ought to be the Iraqis who get to decide. They’ve had so little say in their lives for the last several decades, it’s about time they got to make a decision about something. To my mind, a national referendum is in order. Let Iraqis stain their fingers purple and show us the door. This would permit the US to leave with a little more decorum (or less shame, you could say) while allowing the Iraqis the dignity of having a say in their country’s fate, however terrible it may turn out to be.

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