Why should “America’s people or its troops [be] forced to do penance for the lies of its government”?
There was an article in the September 13 issue of The Economist about the report presented by General David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the Ambassador to Iraq on the outcome of the US troop surge. The General’s ultimate conclusion – that the surge is working and the US Army needs to remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future to successfully complete the task it has been set – left the magazine cold:
This newspaper was not wowed by either man. The spin General Petraeus put on the military achievements of the surge exaggerated the gains. Mr Crocker’s claim to see a spirit of sectarian reconciliation bubbling just beneath the surface of Iraq’s stalemated politics was even less convincing.
It can also be argued that the disaster Mr Crocker says will befall Iraq if America leaves has happened already. America’s military presence has not prevented massive human suffering. At least 100,000 civilians have already been killed in an orgy of sectarian killing. Several million have already been forced out of their homes. Regional states have already intervened by proxy. America’s invasion has given al-Qaeda a new cause, battlefield and haven. And—irony of ironies—the best foreign friend of the Shia-led government that the American army props up in Baghdad is probably not the United States but Iran, America’s great regional adversary.
Iraqis themselves are understandably disillusioned and hostile. As General Petraeus took his flipchart to Capitol Hill, the latest BBC/ABC News poll reported that the proportion of Iraqis who want America to leave at once had risen from 35% to 47% since February. More than two out of three think the surge has made things worse, 85% say they lack confidence in the American or British forces and 57% (93% of Sunnis) consider attacks on them acceptable.
So, in the light of all the above, what was The Economist’s conclusion?
That the Americans (and Britons) should stay in Iraq because as of this date, their presence is about the only thing that’s actually stopping the country from descending into an all out civil war.
There are, of course, a great many arguments that you can bring out against that statement – and most of them are contained in the quotes above in The Economist’s own words. But for what it’s worth, I agree with the magazine in this instance.
I’m a little shocked to realize that this is where I stand. There has not been a single moment since they began talking about war with Iraq that saw me support the idea. I didn’t believe the WMD allegations; I didn’t think it was America’s job to oust dictators (unless it wants to do that across the board in which case, hey, go right ahead, I’ll be here cheering you on); I didn’t buy the 9/11 tie in; I didn’t believe Saddam Hussein was in bed with al Qaeda; and I didn’t see Iraq as being so vitally important to America’s safety at home, and standing in the Middle East, that it required the US Army to divert its attention from Afghanistan to Iraq.
So having called bullshit on just about every single argument why the United States should have gone to Iraq or why it should remain there – this is where I stand. In fact, I’d like to take it one step forward and propose that what Iraq needs right now is not a reduction of troops but more troops.
When the surge was first proposed, I was a skeptic because I didn’t think those numbers were going to be enough. I still don’t think they’re enough to do anything more than make a somewhat larger dent. If we were to see a troop increase combined with what many (erroneously) call “the Biden partition plan”, then we might still have a chance at something better than the stalemate we seem to be running towards.
One of the great frustrations about this war has been the way the Bush administration has always been two steps behind everyone else when it should have been at the forefront. This surge for instance might have done much better a couple of years ago, when things began to get out of hand or if they’d sent in the kind of numbers John McCain talked about last year.
If only, do you think, what if.
Hindsight isn’t good for anybody’s blood pressure, so I’m going to stop right there. I should probably clarify though that while I agree with The Economist that the American and British forces in Iraq are that one last featherweight that stands between the world’s first oil rich al Qaeda nation and the world, my reasoning is a little different from theirs.
Digression: And yes, I said “oil”. It’s amazing how nobody’s talking about it anymore but hello, remember Iraq’s number one asset? Yeah, that black thing that costs tons and tons of dollars a barrel? How much do I hate that I’m actually thinking about things like that when people are dying all over the place? But the point is, thanks to the wonderful management capabilities of the Bush administation, everybody has to care about these things – the Taliban were working off private donations and heroin with the occasional help from friendly states; look what they were able to accomplish. Now imagine what bin Laden and Co. can do with oil funds.
I’m not much concerned with saving American face in the region, but what happens if a free for all breaks out in Iraq tomorrow? As it is, Iraq’s charming neighbors and various terror outfits have been funding their favorite sectarian forces – were America and Britain to move out, everything’s going to hit the fan in spectacular fashion.
But my big point is this: having entered the country on false pretenses, dismantled the existing system with nothing more than vague “the Lord will provide”-type plans to replace it, and systematically failing to face each new challenge as it cropped up, the US and Britain can’t just saunter out of there with nothing more than a “Oops! My bad, I could have sworn though… Oh, well, bygones! What’s that? A plan? Well, it’s not really my problem but maybe if you tried this and this? Yeah, good luck with that. Do let me know how it all turns out!”
And so we come to what made me write this post. A reader from New York had this to say in response to the Sept 13 article:
You fail to explain why America’s people or its troops should be forced to do penance for the lies of its government. One can only conclude that you continue supporting America’s military operation in Iraq simply because you have fallen prey to the same refusal to admit error that has plagued George Bush’s administration in Washington.
I understand where this man is coming from, I can understand his anger. But while I can’t speak for The Economist, I would like to say to him and every other person out there who thinks the way he does: America’s people and its troops are ultimately responsible for the actions of its government, however much they may disagree with it, because theirs is a democratic government.
Sounds unfair, doesn’t it? That man might have been a part of the significant (and vocal) portion of the American public who were always against the Iraqi (mis)adventure. He probably never voted for George W. Bush in his life. Perhaps he’s one of those who think that Al Gore was the rightful president. Or perhaps he is one of those who initially supported the war, only to find out that they’d been lied to and their trust abused on all levels.
And none of that matters. Fact is, as long as you hold American citizenship, its problems are yours even if you argued long and hard against it.
It’s not easy being a citizen, especially in a liberal democracy. Yes, the concept of civil liberties ensure that you can voice your protest and you can always vote for the best representation of your beliefs – but if your guy loses the election, then the implicit idea behind holding an election is that you have to live with the result. If the other guy wins, then it doesn’t matter that you never voted for him or that he doesn’t represent what you think or feel. Yours is not the only vote that counts even if you feel otherwise. Every vote comes with a consequence attached to it.
It is for this reason that I’m always surprised to meet people who say they have no political opinions. A political opinion is about the most personal opinion you can have. It not only decides the direction of your day to day life, but that of your entire family. It also determines the direction your country will take in the world.
Most people who profess anti-Americanism, especially in the Middle East if reports are to be believed, can distinguish between Americans and the American government. But that doesn’t mean that the American at home is at liberty to divorce him/herself from the actions of his/her government. None of us who live in democracies – true, functioning democracies – can avail ourselves of that luxury much as we might sometimes wish we could. It is the price we pay for our many freedoms.
If you believe your government lied, then perhaps it did. But it acted in your name when it entered Iraq and it did so with the full electoral backing of your fellow citizens. Maybe they were wrong, perhaps it was nobody you know – but none of that matters when the deed is done.
You don’t like the way things are being run? Vote.
Pic: Death Mask