Issue Date: September 9, 2005
Internationalizing Iraq is our best option
Predictions of 30-year war in Iraq underscore the need for an exit strategy
By GEORGE HUNSINGER
Back in September 2002, James Webb, assistant secretary of defense and secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, raised a specter that has come back to haunt us. The issue before us, he wrote in The Washington Post, is not simply whether the United States should end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years.
Recently the International Institute of Strategic Studies, a prominent London-based think tank, concluded that the United States will be in Iraq until 2010 because of the difficulties in establishing law and order. University of Michigan Mideast expert Juan Cole sees this estimate as optimistic. The guerrilla war, he writes, is likely to go on a decade to 15 years. Paul Rogers, a diffident Oxford military expert, now echoes Mr. Webb. His ostensibly rash conclusion is that a 30-year war is in prospect. On June 19, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged that Americas involvement in Iraq is indeed a generational commitment.
Mr. Webb had warned about our not having an exit strategy. In an August 2002 television interview, Charles Krauthammer, the well-connected neoconservative columnist, explained why not. We dont speak about exit strategies, he noted. We are going to stay. Responding to concerns about the cost, he explained, If we win the war, we are in control of Iraq, it is the second largest source of oil in the world, its got huge reserves. We will have a bonanza, a financial one, at the other end. Today we can see that while Mr. Krauthammer was wrong about the bonanza, he was right about the prolonged stay.
Currently the occupation is going poorly. One reason is the indiscriminate tactics used by U.S. forces. Whole towns -- from Fallujah to Ramadi and now to the desert villages around Qaim -- have virtually been flattened. Fred Kaplan, the War Stories columnist for the online magazine Slate.com and a former military correspondent for The Boston Globe, comments: Leveling towns, bombing every suspicious target in sight -- this is not how hearts and minds are won or how persistent insurgencies are defeated. Indiscriminate tactics, of course, also violate morality and the laws of war.
It is not surprising that the occupation lacks wide popular support. Civilian casualties -- already in the tens, and perhaps hundreds, of thousands -- are steadily on the rise. Among children, malnutrition has doubled and mortality has tripled. Hospitals still lack basic medicines and equipment, water and electricity are in short supply, stagnant sewage pools in the streets, half the population is unemployed and prices for food are inflated. Car bombs, assassinations, kidnappings and strikes from American forces are a daily occurrence. At least 1 million refugees have fled the country.
Those who insist on staying the course overlook the unpleasant fact that the occupation is the main cause of the insurgency, not its cure. Outstripped and illegitimate, it will only bring more death and destruction.
Although no good options exist, the least bad choice would still be internationalization. A viable exit plan might include the following:
As unpalatable as such a strategy may be to our national pride, it is as prudent, principled and ambitious as the quagmire permits. It is arguably more realistic than continuing to fight indefinitely against a growing insurgency that is increasingly sophisticated in weaponry and tactics. It is also more realistic than current rumored plans for a merely partial withdrawal. These plans have a double drawback. They risk moving so quickly that Iraqi security forces would collapse, yet they would also keep the U.S. military bases intact, thus sowing the seeds for future preemptive wars. Those who object to this path as unrealistic need to explain how we can better extricate ourselves from the biggest U.S. policy disaster since Vietnam.
George Hunsinger is McCord Professor of Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary and coordinator of Church Folks for a Better America, an online initiative for peace.
National Catholic Reporter, September 9, 2005
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