12 February 2007

A Moderate Stance on Iraq

Amid all the voices in Washington, D.C. talking about Iraq right now, there's one argument that I have not yet heard articulated that I think would usefully broaden this debate, re-focus it on the lives - and not the politics - at stake, and provide moderates a morally justifiable way to support the troop increase.

The argument I want to hear is the one that begins by recognizing the deep trauma and suffering American actions in Iraq are causing for Iraqis. Sunnis and Shia are dying by the scores on a daily basis but media reports focus extensively on American deaths, the Left only seems to care about those American deaths, and the Right seems to see all the deaths as a necessary cost of war.

The argument would next move to the idea that stopping Iraqi bloodshed should be the number one goal American policy because those Iraqis are dying because the American army has been unable - for the last nearly four years - to provide sufficient security in the country.

(Let's be clear here on the difference between security and stability. Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq was a stable government in that people generally knew where they stood and everyone wasn't always in fear of their life. But there was no security because that stability could change for any individual at any moment, depending on the whim on a tyrant. The American goal is stability with security.)

All of this might seem very obvious but when I listen to the Iraq debate in this country, I never hear the humanitarian argument being made. I hear the national security argument that failure in Iraq would threaten American interests throughout the region. I hear the argument that too many Americans are dying. But no one seems to care that thousands of Iraqis are dead because of American action and inaction and thousand more will die if the U.S. does not act appropriately.

The obvious strategy is the one the president has seized upon, which is to use the American military to provide security. Unfortunately, he's seized upon this strategy at a time when there's no political support for it and he's cast it solely in terms of national security. I say let's leave the national security implications aside for a moment and think about the deaths we (yes, "we" Americans who have collectively allowed our government to act in this way) have caused in Iraq and how we can prevent them.

There are so many people in this country who are rightly upset at the thousands of horrible deaths in Darfur but when it comes to the thousands of horrible deaths in Iraq, many people seem only to want to focus on the comparatively few of those dead who also happen to be American. John Edwards will talk on and on about his trip to Uganda and the people dying there and then in the next sentence calls for withdrawal from Iraq. This a morally bankrupt - not to mention inconsistent - approach to international relations and I wish someone with a voice in Washington would start calling people out for it.

I think there is an argument that can be made that rejects the withdrawal argument and re-frames the president's troop surge idea into a moral call to save innocent lives in Iraq. There's a lot of moderate Republican senators - like Lisa Murkowski - out there who appear to be in deep personal conflict about the president's proposal. I think the argument here allows them to (rightfully) criticize the president's conduct of this war, but continue to support the war but in moral terms that usefully broadens this debate to consider the true issues at stake, the death of thousands of innocent people.


Jim said...

I've heard it argued that by withdrawing our troops, there would be mayhem for a year or maybe two, then things would would calm down. Killing each other takes a lot of energy and eventually they would lose the will of it. The parallel was drawn with Vietnam when we withdrew - however it may not be a fair comparison because that was more political than sectarian. If true, the question would have to be: how many would continue to die should we stay? We seem to fuel at least some of the citizen killing by our presence. Or how many would die should we leave? I'm not one to say you can bet on that.

Or if we stay, is another 20 or even 40K troops enough to impact anything? I've heard it takes 20 troops per 1000 population to maintain security. Iraq being over 26 million, that would require over 500,000 foreign troops. For a sustainable stabilization force on a 24 month rotation cycle, you would need to draw from 2.5 million troops. These figures are directly off of:
A webpage I know nothing about (bias or otherwise) or how true these figures are. Just more thoughts for your discussion.

Jim said...

you'll have to add a "ml" onto the end of that url I gave above: should end with html.