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Five Years and Counting: A Call to Pundits and Politicians to Deepen the Conversation

Sara K. Gould

On this, the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, it is critical that we heed the words of Albert Einstein: "The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them."

For over a year, public dialogue about this war has revolved almost exclusively around exit strategy timetables and levels of insurgent violence. Should we stay one year or 100? Are there fewer car bombs this month or last?

Exit strategies and indiscriminate violence must be considered, no doubt. But too often public debate on the Iraq War seems to dwell, in Einstein's words, on the level that created it. A level at which fear dominates and those at the margins of our society -- women, low-income people, people of color and youth -- are at best, excluded from decision-making processes and, at worst, disproportionately affected by the consequences of war.

As we enter into our sixth year in Iraq, we must elevate our thinking to a level beyond fear and its necessary corollaries -- racism, misogyny and economic injustice -- to a place where strategy is not owned by the military alone, but is informed by those who should have had a say all along. And we must deepen our thinking to carefully consider the implications of enduring war and occupation on the lives of women, youth and low-income families at home and abroad.

Just look at the state of our nation today. We claim to defend women's human rights, while violating them repeatedly in Iraq and back home. We are in the throes of an economic crisis fueled by trillions of dollars we have spent on a failing war abroad.

So, five years since the start of the war, and in the midst of an election year, what kinds of questions should we be asking? And to whom should we be listening?

For starters, the experiences of women whose partners have returned from violence abroad to inflict violence at home, as well as those of women who have reported widespread sexual assault within the military and private security firms, should inform policy decisions that will guarantee the protection of women's rights-and lives. (Alarmingly, The New York Times reports that, since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, there have been 150 cases of fatal domestic violence or child abuse involving U.S. service members and new veterans.) Likewise, economic policy and military budgets should reflect the needs of a low-income, single parent -- and so many others like her -- who is struggling to support her family, while any hope of relief is siphoned away for a war with no end.

Our increasing interdependence on each other and with the rest of the world demands an approach guided by a vision of a just and inclusive democracy that invites the perspectives and participation of those traditionally excluded from centers of power -- including women. Those who are also, not surprisingly, most impacted by war.

In this vein, the media must cover the broader impact of the Iraq war on those most at risk: the woman in Iraq who is afraid to leave her house for water for fear of being kidnapped, the wife of a veteran who sports the bruises of both her husband's anger and the country's callous treatment of young, often low-income men of color in this country who are recruited into the military with cash cards and free lunches.

Similarly, our political leaders must engage in a more comprehensive conversation about Iraq, including the inextricable links between a failing war and a failing economy. In particular, they must take a good, hard look at the real economic fall-out in this country -- the trillions spent while so many are struggling to keep their homes, pay exorbitant medical bills, afford school, or just the next meal.

And finally, I and many other social justice advocates nationwide are still waiting for our presidential candidates to inspire us with a vision that will prevent us from returning to this violent, seemingly intractable place. To this end, we want them to articulate a new level of systemic understanding that acknowledges the connections between war and racism, misogyny and economic inequality. We want them to ensure an exit from Iraq that protects the rights and livelihoods of those made disproportionately less secure by war. And we want to be sure that they will incorporate the lived experiences of people across the spectrum of race, class and gender into their platforms and policies during this election season and beyond.

Our democracy, and the rest of the world, depend on it.

Sara K. Gould is President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women, the first national women's philanthropy in the United States and the foundation engaged nationally to build women's collective power to ignite change.

Copyright © 2008, Inc.

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