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August 17, 2007

What is Our Moral Obligation to the Iraqis?
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Having a moral obligation to the Iraqi people does not mean keeping our troops stuck indefinitely in the middle of a religious civil war.  But it does mean taking responsibility to alleviate as much of the suffering as possible.  This is something that many of those advocating a responsible end to the war often overlook (Not because they are against helping the Iraqi people, but because they are more focused on ending the war)

So here is a question for candidates who support ending the war.  Given that American military action can do little to put Iraq back together.  Given that maintaining a large troop presence harms U.S. security interests.  Given that we did create this mess in the first place and that a lot of people are suffering as a result.  What is America’s moral obligation to the Iraqi people and what steps would you take to minimize the humanitarian crisis?

Here are some ideas that I would like to see in these plans: 

1.    Completely rework our disgraceful refugee policy.  More than two million Iraqis have fled the country.  Two million more are internally displaced and the numbers continue to rise. Yet through June of this year the U.S. has taken in just 133 people.  That is just embarrassing and sad.

2.    Implement some kind of plan to help Syria and Jordan absorb the roughly 1.5-2 million refugees that those two countries are dealing with.  (Jordan’s population is only 6 million.  This is seriously destabilizing for them). 

3.    Commit more funding to the UN High Commissioner for refugees to continue and significantly expand its work in the Middle East.  They know these issues much better than the U.S.

4.    Massive ramp up in humanitarian funding.  Incredibly humanitarian funding in Iraq fell from $453 million in 2005 to $95 million in 2006 (Three days worth of U.S. military spending in Iraq).  According to Oxfam one third of Iraqis need emergency medical attention and much of Baghdad is without water or electricity.

We might not be able to salvage the situation in Iraq but we should do everything we can to help the Iraqi people cope with the miserable conditions they are facing.


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My first kneejerk reaction is to respond, "Let's ask George. It was his bright idea after all."

I agree with the second idea, and sympathize with the third and fourth. On the matter of humanitarian aid within Iraq I don't know enough to say more than that at this point.

With respect to the first point, the United States owes a debt of honor to those Iraqis who have served, at great risk to themselves and their families, American civilian agencies and the American military. We were able, albeit to a sadly limited extent, to look after our friends in South Vietnam even though the great majority of American troops had left years before the North Vietnamese Army overran Saigon. We should no less in this case, and it ought to dismay every American that the Bush administration does not appear to share this view.

Having said that, I am not anxious to import the civil war from which we ought to be trying to extricate our armed forces. Nor do I think it would be fair in any way to move large numbers of Iraqi refugees ahead of prospective immigrants from countries in our own hemisphere, certainly not before we have made some effort to regularize through legislation the chaotic situation that now exists with respect to immigration in general. Finally and very frankly, in the wake of a somewhat dispiriting debate this year over whether Mexican immigrants who entered this country illegally but have been here for many years represent some kind of mortal threat to the American national character, I am mindful of what the political traffic here will bear with respect to new refugees from the Middle East.

So a public discussion of the points raised by Mr. Goldenberg here is probably a good idea, but any such discussion of admitting refugees who did not work for the American military or civilian agencies in Iraq would be a short one. I doubt we'd find very many people at all who would agree to that.

The only good consequence of the Vietnam war was the massive influx of Vietnamese refugees we got as a result. Could you get a really great bowl of pho anywhere in the U.S. before our Vietnamese misadventure? No, you could not. As the t-shirt says, "My country went to Southeast Asia, but at least I got these delicious Spring Rolls!"

But now, a delicious proliferation of falafel and hummus stands across the U.S. is being cruelly denied us by our shortsighted refusal to take in even a small share of the millions of Iraqi refugees we've created.

Honestly, what's the point of even having an empire, if we can't enjoy the spoils?

Let's do a little rehearsal--I'll play a hypothetical Presidential Candidate.

#1 -- These are depressing numbers, but there are several factors at play beyond general American immigration callousness. The first of which we might call the "Reverse Abu Ghraib Problem." In A.G., we don't know who is actually innocent and should be let out of Guantanamo. In immigration, we don't know who is actually evil and should be kept out of the United States. Sorting is difficult.

#2 -- If we can figure out a solution to #1, we will have a partial solution to #2. If we can't, the two basic options are providing funds to Jordan and Syria for emergency housing and the like or encouraging other countries to increase their immigration quotas. Giving funds to Syria, at least, is probably going to a non-starter and I'm not sure how much control we have over immigration policies in other countries. We'll do what we can, but in the long run we'll be better off finding a solution to #1.

#3 -- Granting large funds to any UN Agency in the current political climate is going to be problemmatic. The Oil for Food scandal coupled with what is largely seen to be a lack of subsequent corrective measures is going to make opening the piggy bank tough. Potentially, the funds could be directed to the Iraqi government and the UN could "advise" (ie. indirectly govern disbursements).

#4 -- For lots of legitimate reasons, humanitarian funding is tied to stability. You can't pay aid workers who won't go into a war zone and there's no use building a hospital that going to get strafed. The destruction of the Golden Mosque in February of 2006 marked a highly pessimistic turn in the conflict, and so funding fell.

So, there is no shorage of seemingly intractable problems. But, I wouldn't be a good hypothetical Presidential Canddiate if I stopped there.

Our emphasis shouldn't be "what" and "how," so much as "where." The fact of the matter is that we can't wait until hostilities have ceased to begin reconstruction. In the areas where it's feasible (Kurdistan and Basra, and possibly the Western portions of Iraq once the warlords have sufficiently curtailed al Queda) we need to start large reconstruction efforts. The path is admittedly risky, and will be entirely at government expense. But we need to give people a reason to stop fighting and we can't continue the negative approach of trying to stop something. We've got to start something. If we have to redeploy so many troops out of Baghdad to secure these areas that Baghdad is left unstable, so be it. The beginnings of an infrastructure in Kurdistan will make fighting in Baghdad look like less of a good idea, and less tolerable.

We've been on the defensive too long in Iraq, and we've considered our only weapons to be military ones. In doing so, we have sold ourselves far short. Our best attack is to take a firm step towards what we've promised and to let the Iraqi people see and decide how they wish to live their lives.

Write in "Chris" on your ballots in February.

. . keeping our troops stuck indefinitely in the middle of a religious civil war.

This, of course, is only part of the story. There are several "wars" going on in Iraq. The parts that mainly involve US troops are (1) defending against the armed resistance by Sunnis (mostly) and Shi'ites to the brutal US military occupation, (2) the US offensive against al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and (3) US attacks on al-Qaeda forces. The Iraqi government-allied militias, which the US oppose, have infiltrated the Iraqi Army, adding yet another dimension to this FUBAR fiasco.

In the course of all this the US has engaged in random killing, home raids, kidnapping, bombing and torture of Iraqi citizens, the ones still alive and in country.

The US military has made a large part of the Iraqi populace the enemy of the United States. Now when in its history has the US assisted the enemy or admitted them into our country? Sounds like treason to me, and it won't happen.

We have an obligation to those who helped us fight the mad dictator; that obligation ends when those persons abandon their primary responsibility to their nation and indulge in sectarian violence.

I hear different interpretations of exactly what the Iraqi people think of the US military. At a news conference at Fort Lee, Virginia a few years back, I heard the story of the Iraqi mother who, pointing to a female US soldier in a position of power, told her daughter, "See what is possible now? You could grow up to be like her."

Another vet at the news conference told of the many cases in which Iraqi citizens helped coalition forces find arms caches held by insurgents.

And of course, there are the pictures and written accounts of US Marines being kissed by grown Iraqi men and pelted with flowers by grown Iraqi women and children of both genders.

Of course, those events occurred immediately after the liberation of Iraq from the Ba'ath Party. Within a few months of the invasion, the Iraqi view changed to one of "what have you done for us lately?"

This change in public attitudes is historically unavoidable. John Dos Passos wrote, coming back on a ship from liberated Europe in 1946, that the Europeans had morphed - from thankful beneficiaries of all the blood and treasure expended by this nation in their struggle against National Socialism - to complaining about the occupying US forces who seemed incapable of doing anything right.

"Yankee go home!" indeed.

In the mid 1990s, I spoke with a tank driver who served in Europe, Korea and Vietnam, a master sergeant named Paul Merman of Hopewell, VA (since deceased). He told of Belgian women, during the allied counterattack during the Battle of the Bulge, running out into the streets where guns were still going off to drop flowers on fallen US soldiers. He and I became pretty emotional when he told this story, as we did when he spoke of his winter in the Heurtegen Forest when the Nazi mortars were set to burst at treetop level, endangering the lives of almost as many Americans with falling limbs as with concussion and shrapnel, and his experiences in Korea, where he got so disgusted with the killingly cold weather that he recalled thinking, "if you're gonna kill me, you might as well goddamn well do it now, because I've had about all I can take."

So, people suffer horribly in the name of liberty, are lauded when they show up and then despised when they don't leave on a schedule compatible with the national expectations of the liberated.

T'was ever thus, my friends. Operation Iraqi Freedom does not exist in a historical or experiential vacuum. The social and political dynamics of such actions have a long history, and are easily understandable outside the context of this particular military operation.*

The other useful bit of historical information is analysis of the disintegration of Yugoslavia following the death of their own dictator. In the absence of a police state held together with a powerful personality cult, ancient rivalries will always surface, and in Southwest Asia, they have very long memories. Even longer than the memories of Balkan peoples, and we all know what Churchill said of the Balkans: "They tend to produce more history than can be consumed locally." He might easily said the same of the holy land, since he cobbled together, as F.O. secretary, the national borders of both regions in the wake of WWI.

The circumstances of Iraq and Yugoslavia are chillingly similar, a point as yet unaddressed by any of the analysis sources I read.

Consider: Precisely as in the case of Marshal Tito, when Saddam eventually died, of natural causes, assassination or the judgment of his own nation's courts, the Iraqi Civil War would have become inevitable.

We either leave that conflict now and let the French and Belgians do the job of separating the hate-fueled forces of sectarian violence (since we did all the heavy lifting, it seems only fair), or we continue to involve ourselves in a civil war with roots going back hundreds of years.

Bad scene, Bix.

Mark Dorroh
Richmond, VA

* By persons who seek objectivity and historical context in the interpretation of such events ... the rest of us will sink further and further into existential angst, and will sometimes run for public office. We accept the leadership of such persons at our own peril. Santayana was right; we either learn from or repeat our mistakes.

Mark Dorroh, your long historical discourse about Europe is completely irrelevant to the four year US military occupation of Iraq which includes the inhumane treatment of Iraqis, causing them to be enemies of the United States. Ever heard of Abu Ghraib, for example? You're living in a dream world, full of stories from The Greatest Generation. You need to get current.

There is no "civil war with roots going back hundreds of years" in Iraq. Sunnis and Shi'ites got along fine in Iraq until the US stirred things up. They lived on the same streets, worked together and intermarried. Then the US, with its lawless 'divide and conquer' strategy, created conditions which led to the current civil strife. As I posted above, this is only part of the 'wars' going on in Iraq which the US government enjoys promoting--there's so much money and power in it, which is why it shows no sign of ending.

So it's wrong to blame the Iraqis for being ungrateful liberated people, when it's the United States government that has created conditions where they are kidnapped, killed, tortured, injured and driven from their homes. You might forgive and forget if your brother was tortured and your uncle was shot on the street, but they don't.

Dear Sir:

Would a context change, factually accurate, make any difference in your thinking? Just asking, as I have no desire to convert you to my own worldview, but let's give it a try, just for fun.

There was no "civil war with roots going back hundreds of years" in Yugoslavia. Christians and Muslims got along fine in Yugoslavia until the dictator died, ethnic cleansing began, rape was used as a weapon against Muslims by supposed good Christian Serbs, the entire male populations over the age of 12 were slaughtered and put into mass graves, and finally, after Serbs detonated an antiaircraft shell over a busy Bosnian marketplace, killing hundreds and in blatant violation of Geneva Convention rules, the US stirred things up. Before Tito died, Christians and Muslims lived on the same streets, worked together and intermarried. So it must have been those imperialistic Americans and NATO forces who caused all that misfortune ...

Get the point? Human behavior, especially when writ large as in the case of racial, religious and ethnic conflict, is universal. Europe, America, the Middle East, Asia, you name it. It's the same story with different faces and names.

Or not. Perhaps my overindulgence in history and biography books for recreational reading has damaged my little Republican mind.

Now, let's address your opinion that in Iraq, " ... the US, with its lawless 'divide and conquer' strategy, created conditions which led to the current civil strife."

Iraq was never a real country. Winston Churchill cobbled together opposing kingdoms of populations with longstanding grievances against one another deliberately. The Brits actually believed in "divide and conquer," and did it rather well. It was in the empire's interests to keep nations at war with themselves, in order to keep them too weak and disorganized to fight the British Empire.

That's why history is important. You learn how things came to be, which usually gives you a pretty good notion of where they're headed.

Yer buddy,
Rapidly Aging Republican Media Creep W/Attitude
AKA Mark Dorroh

PS - Yes, I heard of the Abu Ghraib: The story was rather prominently featured for a number of months.

And as I recall, several of the torturers are currently in prison. Unlike Saddam and the sectarian militias, when we break Geneva Convention rules, people get court-martialed, not decorated with medals.

Should Attorney General Gonzalas be prosecuted for his finding that "moderate" torture was permissible? Of course.

Were there higher-ups who, deliberately or otherwise, gave sloppy instructions to the prison guards in order to encourage them to commit atrocities? Of course.

Do the abuses of Abu Ghraib mean that Saddam and his minions should have been permitted to deny UN weapons inspectors full and unfettered access to suspected WMD sites for another 12 years?

Well now, that gets into the history of the conflict, doesn't it? Let's review:

In the 1980s,s Saddam fought an unnecessary war of aggression against Iran (just one of many dustups between Sunni and Shiite empires over the centuries) for something like six years, killing somewhere in the neighborhood of one million Arabs and Persians, nearly all of them Moslems.

He then invaded Kuwait in 1990, got another half-million Arabs killed, got his butt kicked out by an international coalition, and sued for peace. The armistice agreement which ended hostilities in 1991 was contingent upon Saddam's government allowing full, unfettered access to UN weapons inspectors of any and all suspected WMD facilities. This was never granted.

Saddam was required to give a full accounting of all the WMD stockpiles left over from Operation Desert Storm ... and never did.

Hans Blix, in his final pre-invasion report to the Security Council mentioned that this was odd, since Iraq under Saddam was a nation in which meticulous records on everything were kept, yet in 12 years, Saddam was unable to deliver those records to the UN.*

In the face of this intransigence upon the most basic language of the armistice instruments and UN Security Council resolutions, some folks thought, in 2003, that it might be wise to hold Saddam to the terms he agreed to in 1991.

The real reason Iraq was invaded was simple: armistice enforcement. The administration bungled the PR message with a lot of twaddle about building democracies in a part of the world which had no democratic traditions to speak of. They were also seeking illusory connections between 9/11 and the Iraqi Ba'ath Party, but that begs the question, doesn't it? Whether or not Saddam had a flipping thing to do with 9/11, he has spent 12 years ignoring international law. The Security Council and the US Congress authorized UN member nations to employ force of arms to hold Saddam to the terms of a document he was only forced to sign because of his war of hegemonic, imperialist aggression against Kuwait.

Yeah, I can see why this is all America's fault.

I know you believe historical discourses are irrelevant to the current state of affairs in the world, but I must say, in my ignorant, chicken-sucking opinion, you would greatly enlarge your understanding of how these things work by reading up on the history of imperialism. If you do, you will learn that America's imperial phase ended with WWII, when we gave former possessions like the Philippines total autonomy, while the British imperial phase ended with the surrender to local government of former possessions such as India, Pakistan, Rhodesia, etc.

The Iraqi age of imperialism's most recent incarnation was … the rule of Saddam! He started every war Iraq fought from 1980 - 2003 with acts of naked aggression. Those acts were followed, in the case of Kuwait, by Saddam's state of delusional denial based on the pretense that he'd won a war he had in fact lost.

Yer buddy,

*In the same report, Blix went on to plead for "more time" to bring the Iraqis into compliance with the terms of the 1991 armistice and 17 UN Security Council resolutions, but after 12 years of noncompliance, some were not convinced that "more time" was what was needed.

Likewise, increasing embargoes upon Iraq was a non-starter, since the only thing the embargoes had accomplished was the impoverishment and additional suffering of ordinary Iraqi citizens, who lacked food, medicine and other essentials.

The international response, the Oil for Food program was, by all post-operational accounts, a failure from day one. Way too much of the money Saddam was supposed to devote to providing care for his people was instead spent on illegal arms purchases (for instance, the extra-range Chinese missiles discovered in 2003, just before the invasion) and bribes to UN and other officials. So Blix's suggestions to "stay the course," to continue doing that which had not worked for a dozen years met with a lot of skepticism, for what I would characterize as excellent and utterly logical reasons.

And in regard to your assertion that "There is no 'civil war with roots going back hundreds of years' in Iraq," perhaps this offering from Wikipedia will be helpful:

"The Shia believe that the split between the Shia and Sunni began with Muhammad's death, when Abu Bakr was accepted as the successor to Muhammed by the majority of Muslims, then Umar and Uthman ... Shia and Sunni historians record that many Shia have been persecuted, intimidated, and killed, through what Shia consider a coup d'état against Ali's caliphate ... Many prominent Salafi Sunni scholars are known to have openly considered the Shia as "kufar" (disbelievers). Imam Ash-Shafi'i, [d. 204 A.H./ 820 C.E.]one of the most prominent early scholars of his time, said in regards to the Shia "I have not seen among the heretics a people more famous for falsehood than the Raafidite Shi’ites."

In recent years, there have been serious attempts on the part of Muslim theologians to end this fratricidal nonsense, but the long history of oppression, reaction and counteroppression between the sects is verifiable through a number of independent sources.

Sorry, but this assertion of yours is utterly without foundation. Just thought you'd want to know.

Yer eternal pal,

Dear Mr. Bacon:

Have you any basis for continuing to assert that things were hunkey-dorey between the major Muslim sects of Iraq prior to our hamhanded divide-and-conquer invasion?

If so, please submit them to this forum. If not, admit you were a trifle hyperbolic in your former posting.

Or do neither. Facts are stubborn things, history is important and relevant to the discussion at hand, and only an intellectual coward of the first order would continue to assert what has been proven factually wrong by abandoning the discussion.


Dear Mr. Bacon:

I'm still waiting for your response.


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