Why it’s time to leave Iraq
As of May 11, 2004, 6:20 p.m., 775 American soldiers have perished in Iraq; 4,462 have been wounded, many of them grievously; 108 coalition soldiers from nations others than ours have died. The Department of Defense estimates that approximately 6,000 Iraqi soldiers have been killed. Various organizations estimate that there have been 10,000 or so civilian deaths. But despite the approximately 18,000 or so souls the war has taken, that alone is not why the time is right to quit Iraq.
The reasons, as I see them, are at least four in number.
First, there were no weapons of mass destruction, the proffered reason (before the “shock and awe”) we as a nation were offered to justify the attack. Think back a year or so. What our government assured us was that war in Iraq, rather than amounting to aggression against another nation was a war on terrorism, that 9/11 made Iraq a matter of national security.
Simply, it was not. There has never been shown to be a credible ink between Al Qaeda and Iraq.
There is no dispute that Saddam Hussein is a monster and his was a murderous reign. He was a despot and a tyrant, but he was not a threat to the United States. Both history and the present world stage have always been and remain sadly populated with masochists, satyrs and thugs. And although the temptation to depose Hussein is laudatory, doing so by military action marks us in much of the hostile world as armed imperialists rather than the liberators we fancy ourselves to be. There is little doubt the people of Iraq are better off out from under Hussein’s boot. But couldn’t the same be said in favor of liberating Cuba, North Korea, Myanmar, China and endless others?
Even allowing a noble purpose to our acts, there are bigger and more dangerous fish to fry. A nation, like a person, must pick its fights and marshal its resources. If vengeance were our calling, wouldn’t our might have been better deployed in the barrens of Afghanistan, to wresting Osama Bin Laden rather than Hussein from whatever dusty warren he may still be occupying. To single out Iraq, simply makes no strategic sense.
The second failing in Iraq is the wrong-headed belief that our system of governance and our democratic values can be “cut” and “pasted” into the “document” of another culture that bears no resemblance to our own. One must recall that when America became what America is, it was a great experiment, the likes of which in the entire pantheon of human endeavor the world had never known. Had not the unique conditions that existed at the time of the American Revolution conspired, there never would have been the America we know now. Chief among these was the newness of an unexplored and largely uninhabited continent bursting with possibilities. True, first France, and then other “modern” nations ultimately followed, but not before bloody convulsions, stops and starts, retreats, reversions, back-sliding and terror. By and large, the ancient world has not. Not 229 years post Lexington and Concord.
Iraq is as old as time itself. Scholars reasonably ascribe the geological center of the Garden of Eden among the marshlands of southern Iraq. Never has Iraq ” where there is no meaningful distinction between church, state and, in some senses, self ” enjoyed self-governance. To impose it, in whole cloth, simply is a garment which does not fit. To impose a maverick U.S.-style democracy, by and through a puppet government, is too large an incremental leap, a leap which from the outset has been doomed to failure and the rubble heap of good intentions. Better to support a U.S.-friendly government in a form more well-suited to the Iraqi character than to create our image in the hostile looking glass of the Iraqi desert.
The third reason that the U.S. occupation of Iraq won’t work is so simple a historical lesson as to be axiomatic. Foreign occupations never work and the farther from home, the farther stretched out the supply lines, the more susceptible to failure the enterprise becomes. Look to French-controlled, then U.S.-dominated, Vietnam for a convenient example. Another easy tableau is pre-revolutionary America. In the war of succession, Gen. Washington knew, perhaps above all others, that although out-gunned, out-financed, out-allied and out-numbered, all the rebels had to do was to survive and, ultimately, to out-last. This is the same strategy at work today in Iraq. A small force of true believers is staging hit-and-run attacks. Hit, stun, run, hide, survive and wait. All the modern weaponry in the world cannot defeat a martyr’s will to out-endure.
While might may make right in the short run, in the long run neither the domestic economy, the will of the folks back home, nor the esprit de corps of a occupying force will overcome the inevitable inertia stacked against it. Patience is the virtue and redemption of the occupied.
Fourth among the mantra against continued warring in Iraq harkens to the Texas rebellion, which led first to the independent Republic of Texas (which, incidentally, included parts of what now is Colorado, including Eagle County) and then to Texas statehood. As most amateurs of American history know, Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, president of Mexico, took no prisoners at the Alamo, slaughtering the survivors to the last man. In so doing, he sacrificed the high moral ground he might otherwise have occupied ” after all, the Texans were the usurpers ” giving rise to the cry that took the Texans into battle, “Remember the Alamo and Goliad!” (where Texan prisoners were slaughtered en masse). But instead of occupying the higher moral ground, what is less known is that the Texans in the space of weeks gave it back. At the battle of San Jacinto, the Mexicans were caught, engaged and massacred.
Moses Bryan, nephew of Stephen Austin, wrote, “The most awful slaughter I ever saw was when the Texans pursued the retreating Mexicans, killing on all sides, even the wounded …” Sadly, the Iraqi prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib is like that. Even if only the actions and sheer dunderheaded stupidity of a few low-ranking thugs, they have effectively yielded the high moral ground America professed to claim. If we, the liberators, are perceived to be the equal of what we claim by our presence to amend, who will follow when we lead?
Following 9/11, we had the sympathy of the world on our side and the weight and might of a victim’s innocent rectitude in our corner. But we have squandered that, every particle, every iota, in Iraq. I venture that a greater portion of the world holds us in loathing and contempt than at any time before the horrible events that blue September morning.
It is time to quit Iraq. 775 sons and daughters and their widows, widowers, lovers, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, add punctuation, heft and tears to why. A tactical retreat, sooner rather than later, is the only viable course if we hope to salvage what remains of our international respect.
To argue for a practical withdrawal is not isolationist in leaning. There are Hitlers yet to come whom the moral conscience of democracy insists is worth our blood. But Iraq is not the time, the place, or the cause. We would do well to accept the lessons history offers and to spare our moral indignity for a cause that merits the investment of our children, economic resource and the currency of U.S. credibility.
The yahoos at Abu Ghraib notwithstanding, we all should have nothing but respect for our brave fighting forces. But Iraq is the wrong fight for the wrong reasons in the wrong place at the wrong time. And diplomacy, now that the tyrant is deposed, must be the course to win the Arab hearts and minds that we profess to court.
Rohn Robbins of Singletree is an attorney who writes frequent columns for the Daily.