As Congress wrestles with US policy in Iraq, the human reality on the ground grows worse and worse throughout the region. We need to begin grappling with our responsibilities in the face of that burgeoning tragedy.
I fear for the peoples of the Middle East.
I fear for Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq, who are already engaged in bloody civil war, and for their co-religionists throughout the region, whose long coexistence is being turned into lethal conflict by US and other outside forces. I fear for the Turkmen and the Kurds in northern Iraq, who are being openly threatened with ethnic cleansing and military attack. I fear for Christians, Jews and other vulnerable minorities spread throughout the region.
I fear for the Afghans, who have yet again been plunged into civil war. I fear for the Iranians, against whom American and Israeli leaders threaten military attack and blithely discuss the use of nuclear weapons. I fear for the Lebanese, who face yet again the destruction of their country by war and civil war.
I fear for the Palestinians, who are already subject to massacre by both the Israelis and by their own rival political factions. I fear for the Israelis; for while US operations in the Middle East have claimed to protect Israel, all the military superiority in the world will not protect the Israeli people from devastation if the peoples surrounding them are sufficiently enraged.
Opponents of US withdrawal from Iraq say we can’t leave because of the terrible bloodletting that would result. Advocates of withdrawal point out that terrible bloodletting is already under way, and that the US presence helped cause and aggravate it.
Both sides have a point. US presence and escalation in Iraq, and its threats against Syria, Iran and other countries, are fueling the bloodletting on many fronts. But withdrawal of US troops, absent other new initiatives, is likely to be followed by continuing or expanded civil war and mass killing in Iraq and beyond.
And the danger of slaughter is not just limited to Iraq; it is spreading through the entire region. It threatens those of every nationality and religion. While each of the region’s conflicts embodies innumerable rights and wrongs, the current escalation of conflict will not lead to justice for anyone but only to new tragedies for all.
To forestall such nightmare scenarios, the US government, the American people and indeed the governments and peoples of the world need to embrace a radically different objective for Iraq and the Middle East. No longer can we simply ask how to pursue one or another country’s power or prestige. Rather, we must ask how to reduce as much as possible the level of carnage throughout the region.