Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Myth of the Benefits of Leaving Iraq

As one of the people who was against the war from the moment it was proposed, I have watched the late awakening of American outrage with mixed feelings. On the one hand, more people saying the war is a mismanaged disaster is better than fewer people saying it. Yet, the reasons given by people who have finally begun to call for withdrawal are so fatuous:

"The Iraqis just aren't ready for democracy"

"We didn't send in enough troops to do it right"

"The Iraqis will have to stand on their own now - we have done enough"

--- and more along the same lines.

Largely absent -- save from people who were against the war from the start -- is a condemnation of the immoral and illegal US decision-making process that led us to invade a sovereign country and reduce it to civil war. This lack of forthrightness is particularly glaring among Democrat front-runners for the 2008 presidential election -- people who should know better and who should have been leaders in the debate against the war before it started.

Along with the lack of honesty about our role in making Iraq into a disaster area, there is a corresponding lack of realistic thinking about the benefits of a pullout. Received wisdom seems to be that we can just leave and that, whatever happens afterwards isn't our problem. A corollary to this piece of self deception is that the costs of the war will immediately evaporate as soon as our last soldier has left Iraq.

For those of us opposed to the war from the start (sorry to keep harping on this, but I think it is a key fact about the debate on the war), it was obvious and oft-stated that it would be much easier not to go to war in the first place than it would be to get out once we had invaded. It was pointed out by some that the war could drag on for years and cost hundreds of billions and even spill over into the next presidency. All of this prediction has or is in the process of coming true. Yet, here we are now: wishing we could just leave and pretend it never happened.

Here are some facts related to leaving Iraq that we had better start discussing honestly:

* The USA invaded a sovereign country for no good reason in violation of common decency and international law. There will need to be a reckoning for this. My preference would be for war crimes trials for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and others. But, whether such trials ever come to pass or not, the American people as a whole owe the Iraqi people reparations to atone for our moral and legal transgressions.

* Before we invaded, Iraq was functional as a state - now it is not
* Before we invaded, there was working water, electricty, a national health system, schools, police, fire departments - these are now in shambles
* Before we invaded, sectarian violence was kept in check by Saddam Hussein's government - tens of thousands of Iraqis have now died and now no one can walk the streets in safety
* Before we invaded, Iraq had an oil exporting business -- this is now largely ruined

I am willing to accept that our military withdrawal will do more good than harm, since we are the hated occupier. But, once gone, we will need to provide massive aid to help clean up the disaster we have precipitated. (This assumes that the country will not totally implode after we go and that there will be any prospect of rebuilding it) To be effective, such aid will run into the hundreds of billions -- just as the military action has already done. In addition, the war's cost to date, which has been financed by deficit spending, will come due for middle class Americans in the form either of much higher taxes or possibly crippling interest rates and will most certainly be used as an excuse not to fund needed infrastructure upgrades here at home. Heaven only knows what the additional costs of reparations will do!