Unintended Consequences | The Nation


Unintended Consequences

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The liberal community seems to be divided about what to do in Iraq, in particular over the issue of an American withdrawal. What is your view?

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: Every day the American occupation of Iraq continues, the crimes inherent in such an occupation continue. More innocent Iraqis will be wounded, killed, tortured or arrested. The Iraqi resistance will continue to have ready justification for its own violence and crimes, and the Iraqi government will continue to be perceived as a weak and illegitimate collaborator. The occupying powers must therefore promulgate a timetable for an expeditious withdrawal. Such an announcement would allow for Sunni participation in the political process and convince all Arab Iraqis that America is not in Iraq seeking the country's oil or permanent bases. The majority of the Iraqi resistance would have a strong incentive to pursue negotiations and lay down their weapons, because there would be no occupation to fight. They could unite with other Iraqis in opposing foreign radical Islamic movements, which would lose both a motivating factor and a major opportunity to engage in jihad. This is not to imply that all will end well. If the Americans leave, Iraqis may end up fighting one another before responsible religious, tribal and political leaders establish order, based on the strong sense of Iraqi nationalism among both Sunni and Shiite Iraqi Arabs. Either way it will take decades for the region to recover from the ill-fated and traumatic American adventure.


: I strongly agree that the US should withdraw its troops completely from Iraq, and as fast as is humanly possible. The troops have no right to be there, because their presence is the result of a war that was illegitimate under any reasonable reading of international law. Their presence there is doubly illegitimate because, in the postinvasion era, they have been used to buttress a US Administration inside Iraq that has disregarded the entire legal structure that regulates what is permissible during a military occupation. I am aware of the argument that a too-early US withdrawal may leave the country mired in civil war and that therefore Americans have some kind of "duty" to stay in Iraq to "make things right." I believe this argument is based on the completely false premise that the American presence has a stabilizing influence within the country. My reading of the situation there is that exactly the opposite is true.


: I find myself torn between the fear that rapid American withdrawal could bring about further anarchy and civil war and the worry that continued American presence will reduce the incentives of the local parties to move toward a lasting arrangement. On balance, I am now of the opinion that announcing a reasonable timetable (within eighteen months) for the beginning of American withdrawal is more good than bad. If the United States is taken out of the equation, the focus may be on Iraq. Al Qaeda, which is now capitalizing on the anti-American mood and on a genuine Iraqi insurgency, would have far fewer allies in Iraq. The best course of action would be to issue a challenge to the Iraqi government and to the Sunni population: If a constitutional deal is struck that attracts the majority of Sunni leadership and elections are held in which majorities of all major communities participate, the US would commit significant foreign aid directly to the Iraqi government over a period of ten years and would announce a timetable for withdrawal of forces.


: The United States cannot resolve the problems in Iraq militarily, and its policies have made things progressively worse. The Iraqi government has no military and won't have an effective one for five to ten years. If the United States simply withdrew, Iraq might well fall into massive civil war. That war would, moreover, likely draw in the Turks, Iranians and Saudis. Consequent guerrilla sabotage of Iranian and Saudi petroleum production is not impossible and would risk deeply harming the world economy, especially the poor in the global South. The Iraq situation needs to be effectively internationalized, preferably by giving it a United Nations military command, like that in Cambodia in the early 1990s. Obviously, that step will not be taken by the Bush Administration, and it will not be easy to accomplish under any circumstances, given how badly the Administration has alienated the international community and what a mess it has made of Iraq. In the absence of internationalization, and given the great likelihood that "Iraqization" will fail miserably in the near to medium term, America faces the choice of being stuck in Iraq for many years or risking a destabilization of the Middle East and of the world energy economy.

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