Unilateral withdrawal -- “End the War and Bring the Troops Home!” -- was the demand of the movement against the Vietnam War. It was the proper solution for ending that war, but it’s far too simplistic for ending the war in Iraq. George W. Bush, with his rush into what we now know to be an unnecessary war, has created a debacle for which there can be no easy out.
Vietnam hawks argued that a unilateral American withdrawal would lead to a communist take-over of the third world. But this “Domino Theory” was a crock, as the anti-war movement then argued. Vietnam was a civil war fueled by
Vietnamese nationalism. The attempt by the United States to turn it into an international morality play was propaganda, and most of the world understood it.
Unlike Vietnam, the war in Iraq has implications for people everywhere. Ending the war by bringing the troops home, as desirable as that would be, would lead to savage fighting between religious and ethnic groups, far more destructive than even the American bombing. Religious extremists would interpret the American withdrawal as God’s will and be emboldened to mount terrorist attacks not only against the United States, but against all symbols of western society and, as we are now seeing in Indonesia and Afghanistan, moderate and secular Muslims.
The Bush administration went to war without an exit strategy. They destroyed the Iraqi physical infrastructure without adequate plans to put it back together, leaving the Iraqi people without electricity, sanitation, jobs, and water. As in the domestic sphere, the Bush administration is clueless in regard to the everyday needs of ordinary people.
As the many of us who opposed the war predicted, the invasion of Iraq inspired, rather than stopped, terrorism. It also roused Iraqi nationalism, predictably uniting a fractious people against a foreign occupying army. A U.N. official, quoted in Bob Herbert’s New York Times column, got it right. The U.S. occupation is “a dream for the jihad," he said. "The U.S. is now on the soil of an Arab country, a Muslim country, where the terrorists have all the advantages. They are fighting in a terrain which they know and the U.S. does not know, with cultural images the U.S. does not understand, and with a language the American soldiers do not speak. The troops can't even read the street signs."
The dynamic of our position in Iraq is this: A relatively few Iraqis destroying infrastructure and picking off our soldiers cannot be stopped by military firepower. (And whether they are Saddam loyalists, Iraqi nationalists, or foreign terrorists is not of primary importance). Without good police work and support of the people, which necessitates knowledge of a country’s customs, language, and culture (none of which we have), we are bound to harm innocents as we chase after Iraqi fighters. Every Iraqi citizen who we unnecessarily question, offend, insult, harass or harm (even if our soldiers don’t mean to) becomes a potential recruit for the anti-American resistance. Every time we accidentally kill an innocent Iraqi citizen, we turn his or her family and friends into opponents of our occupation.
The bombing of the United Nations office in Baghdad underlines the international implications of the Iraqi war. The fact that we do not know what group was responsible for the attack underscores the absurdity of the whole situation; i.e., we cannot identify our enemy.
Though the United Nations is in Iraq for humanitarian purposes, it compromised itself by putting itself under the authority of American forces. Iraqis also blame the U.N. for administering the sanctions. The idea of “sanctions” needs more study. Sanctions worked in South Africa because white South Africans supported the apartheid government. But Iraqis are victims of a triple-whammy: First they were victims of Saddam; then they became victims of the sanctions; now they are victims of the American invasion ostensibly aimed, like the sanctions, at getting Saddam.
What to do? One solution, as proposed by Senator John McCain and Pentagon dissidents, is to send more troops to increase security and protect the oil pipelines. But more troops mean more targets for angry Iraqis. Our troops are trained to fight an enemy, not rebuild a country. What happened in Afghanistan anticipated what’s happening in Iraq. The Taliban are back in Afghanistan, attacking Americans and their Afghani allies. The warlords, who we bribed into fighting the Taliban, refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Afghan government, which controls Kabul and little else. Our effort to build roads and schools and thus win the hearts and minds of the Afghani people was abandoned in order to make war on Iraq. In Afghanistan, however, we have the support of other countries. NATO forces, currently commanded by a German general, have taken over our effort to pacify and rebuild Afghanistan. Good luck to them!
After ignoring and insulting the United Nations, the Bush administration now wants the U.N. to send troops and money to help us in Iraq. Because Bush insists that the United Nations subsume itself to American leadership, it’s not going to happen. The solution is for the U.N. to take-over the occupation and for the United States to give up its authority (but not its financial obligation). Under the Bush administration, that won’t happen. The presence of the United Nations doesn’t guarantee a successful outcome. The world organization is only as good as the commitment and wisdom of its member countries and its own individual leaders.
The political tragedy of the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad was that Vieira de Mello, the Brazilian who headed the U.N.’s humanitarian mission to Iraq, knew what he was doing. He opposed the Anglo-American invasion. He had the sensitivity, so lacking in Washington, to understand that for the Iraqi people the occupation is, in his word, “traumatic.” “This must be one of the most humiliating periods in the history of this people,” he said just before he died in the bombing. His prescription for Iraq was for the United Nations to restore the Iraqi infrastructure, establish a national police force, and bring an end to the Anglo-American occupation as quickly as possible.
Marty Jezer writes from Brattleboro, Vermont and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
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