Saturday, March 17, 2007

Anti-War Protests (Or Events I am Not Attending)

Throughout the nation (indeed, the world) this weekend, people are taking to the streets to protest the "Iraq War." And already, we have identified the problem. I am sorry to announce that there is no war in Iraq. There is an occupation, but not a war. This is not a new development. The anti-war ship has sailed. We cannot "end the war" - we can, and must, end the occupation, but there are right ways to end the occupation and wrong ways to end the occupation. (Indeed, there are many more WRONG ways to end it.)

One of the worst ways to end the occupation of Iraq? To borrow a phrase from today's protests, "U.S. Out of Iraq Now!"

One result of our invasion was to set the stage for a civil war and factional violence (and the factions are substantially more complicated than 'Sunni' and 'Shiite'); as such, we have a responsibility to provide for a stable Iraq as and after we leave. I think it is fair to say that an immediate withdrawal, without more, would lead to a less stable Iraq and result in more deaths than we're currently seeing. (You will note, I hope, that many of the attacks are not directed at U.S. troops.) I find this a morally unconscionable approach. Equally abysmal is an extended occupation - the goal of every occupation must be to end. But how? An easy starting point is rebuilding the infrastructure of the country - power, water, schools, etc. Peace is substantially less likely where people are deprived of life's necessities (desperate people will engage in desperate acts).

But how do we ensure, or at least make more likely, peace after the occupation? Training of the Iraqi military is necessary but not sufficient - a sustainable peace does not come at gunpoint. I see two potential models: a political model, as employed in North Ireland, and/or a truth and reconciliation model, as employed in South Africa. The political situation in Iraq appears to be failing abysmally at facilitating reconciliation. This is not to say a political solution is impossible, but to be effective, all parties must have a seat at the table and that can be a bitter pill to swallow. Even more bitter a pill is the truth a reconciliation approach and its success in South Africa has not been realized everywhere it has been implied (see, e.g., much of Latin America). The U.S. cannot impose such a solution; it must be a led by Iraqi leaders and adapted to the particular needs of the country. However, we can encourage such a solution, or, at the very least not stand in the way. Might that require that we forgo prosecution of or retaliation against individuals who have engaged is horrible practices? Who have taken the lives of U.S. troops? It is entirely possible.

At the end of the day, am I optimistic at the prospects of the U.S. leaving behind a sustainable Iraq at the end of the occupation? Sadly, no. Republicans insist on some undefined "victory" (which is clearly not attainable) while Democrats call for a withdrawal but without any apparent thought about ensuring we leave Iraq better than we found it. The overall message from this weekend's protest seem to favor the latter approach, and for that reason I cannot join them.

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