Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Finally, someone writes of the US's moral obligation to Iraq

Tom Ricks at the Foreign Policy website has an excellent post about the recent fighting in Baghdad between government forces (backed by US military) and the Sunni "Sons of Iraq" militias. Specifically, he produces part of a note from retired Col. Pete Mansoor (who was Gen. Petraeus' exec. officer during most of the "Surge"), who is disturbed by the possibility that US troops may indeed wind up taking on these militia who so recently had worked with the US.

But I'm especially struck by Ricks' inclusion of an analysis from Ali Wyne of the Carnegie Endowment, who writes in no uncertain terms about the moral obligations that Americans - be they pro-withdrawal or pro-occupation - owes Iraqis at this point:

Conventional wisdom holds that the United States is shifting its focus back to Afghanistan now that the war in Iraq has been won. The suggestion -- which has, by now, been internalized in mainstream discourse -- that the surge of American troops into Baghdad has been a success is dubious on two grounds.

First, there are factual difficulties. A September 2008 report by researchers at UCLA found that "violence has declined in Baghdad because of intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning." They concluded, therefore, that "the surge has had no observable effect, except insofar as it has helped to provide a seal of approval for a process of ethno-sectarian neighborhood homogenization that is now largely achieved." That is, the surge occurred after the tinderbox that it was intended to eliminate had mostly been defused. Furthermore, according to a recent wire story, the apparent stability in Baghdad results from "fear," which "keeps the peace."

Second, there are moral considerations. Approximately five million Iraqis, or 20% of the Iraqi population, have been displaced from their homes; Human Rights Watch reports that "no structure exists to meet [their] humanitarian needs." According to recent statistics, 88% of Iraqis do not have access to electricity; 70% do not have access to clean water (a new report found that 36% of Baghdad's drinking water is unsafe); and 43% live on less than a dollar a day. One in five Iraqi women suffers physical violence, and one in three Iraqi children is hungry. It strains credulity to suggest that victory has been achieved in Iraq even though the country's social services apparatus is dysfunctional, most Iraqis cannot access basic provisions, and the rule of fear substitutes for the rule of law. Because the surge "is not linked to any sustainable plan for building a viable Iraqi state," concluded a respected analyst, "the recent short-term gains [in stability] have come at the expense of the long-term goal of a stable, unitary Iraq."

The dichotomous debate over Iraq -- one side supports (even if tacitly) indefinite occupation on the grounds that a full-scale civil war will erupt if the United States withdraws prematurely; the other supports a phased withdrawal of American troops from Iraq on the grounds that the occupation is increasingly a strategic liability - excludes moral considerations. Members of the former camp should ask themselves: is it right for the United States to stay in Iraq if it does not accord at least as much priority to the welfare of Iraqis as it does to its own strategic interests? Members of the latter camp should ask themselves: given how greatly Iraqis have suffered as a result of the war, is it principled for the United States to abdicate its humanitarian obligations to them under the banner of "ending the occupation?" Although each camp claims the moral high ground, the reality is that they both avoid the considerations that must underlie any moral posture.

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