Monday, August 14, 2006

Iraq Solution - Put it to a Vote

There is an optimal solution for the paradox of the Iraqi occupation. Let the Iraqis vote on the continued presence of the U.S. led "Coalition of the Willing" (henceforth simply the U.S.). If they vote we stay, the U.S. presence gains legitimacy, both in Iraq and the international community. If they vote we leave, then we leave with honor. We leave, as perhaps no occupying army has ever left a country it so recently conquered, merely because we were told to by the people. This is an importatn question we must have the people (and not their parlimentary representatives) answer. Democracy cannot be created in the midst of a sectarian civil war with an occupying army hated by the local populace. Since pithy names and sloganering seem to be a prerequisite to selling any Iraq policy, I herby dub this plan the "Democracy and Dignity" plan, since it gives dignity to the Iraqi people by allowing them to use the democratic process as they wish against the U.S.


The Iraq war was originally sold to the world as basically a defensive action (irregardless if the World bought that particuar product). A majority of the representatives of the American people in Congress agreed that Saddam was a mortal threat, who was preparing an eminent strike of WMD's against the American people. The invasion occured, and these stocks of weapons proved nonexistent. Additionally, there is no evidence that ties Saddam to 9-11. Therefore, the war gains no legitimacy as one fought in self-defense, or even one fought as revenge or a comeuppance for the 9-11 attacks. Naturally, Bush argues that we are there to build a flowering democracy.

Viewed from the perspective of the average Iraqi on the ground, the U.S. was jumping at shadows. It invaded Iraq and destroyed its entire governmental system, as well as killing many unfortunate civilians along the way. The U.S. then failed to impose order, which is the first duty of a soverign actor; to secure a monopoly on the use of force for both justice and to enforce property rights. Looting began, as well as forced displacement and some limited ethnic cleansing, especially in areas bordering the Kurdish north. Reconstruction was promised, but after three years all services are still below a pre-war level. Sectarian violence is now common, with deaths appearing to average around 50 a day. The average Iraqi must wonder why the Americans are even in his country, and if they can do any good. The average American is begining to wonder the same thing.

Clearly, this situation is untenable. The only proper solution is to put the continued American presence to a vote. If the Iraqis can go to the polls to elect a government, they can handle a simple plebescite.

The Vote:

There will be two options. The first is to have the Americans stay, until either the next general election for parliament, when this issue will be back on the ballot. A good alternate (or addition) to this "stay" vote would be to permit parliament to ask the U.S. to leave two years after the vote. It is important to make the "stay" option not an open-ended grant, but permit the Iraqi people or their representatives to revisit the issue.

The "leave" option will require the US to pull all forces out of the borders of Iraq in one year and six months. This will be done in gradual phases, slowly at first, but then accelerating. U.S. forces will begin a very slow drawdown (almost non-existent) for the first six months, as more responsibilities are turned over to the Iraqis. The next six months will see a gradual redeployment of the U.S. to the periphery, on the edges of cities in the center of Iraq and a greater concentration of troops in the north, into Kurdish areas, and into the south, near Kuwait. In the last six months, these bases the U.S. troops have withdrawn into will themselves draw down, starting in central Iraq, and then winding up the lines of communication until only border outposts are left. As each base is closed, there will be formal ceremonies turning each base over to Iraqi army commanders, which will be broadcast, hopefully to help the Iraqi people witness the friendly and consenting transfer of power.

Flexibile Withdrawl:

It is indeed possible that this drawdown leads to chaos. Since there is an Iraqi government, one condition is that the government can delay the process, after the first six months of the drawdown, by a parlimentary vote. This vote will have to explain that there is a state of emergency, and continued U.S. forces are needed to help maintain order. However, this would be limited to a hold on the withdrawl plan for a maximum of one year. If the people voted the U.S. out, their will is supreme. The parliament will also be authorized to ask for another vote at the end of this one year delay (so this vote will be held 18 months after the first vote). The U.S. will do nothing to influence this election. If the parliament feels the U.S. presence necessary, after the people disagreed, then they must convince their countrymen.

During the first six months of the withdrawl, the engagement of all Iraqi parties hostile to the U.S. presence is vital. Provided a timetable for withdrawl, many hostile elements will lose much of their motivation to fight (what they see as an "infidel occupation" and a never-ending crusade), and will see they must plan for a time when the U.S. is gone and Iraq is controlled by Iraqis. Also, insteading of standing over the people of Iraqi as a colonial overlord, the U.S. will have bowed to their will. This empowerment can hopefully help enamour the skeptical ones about the power of democracy. If these formerly hostile elements can be turned, then they will likely turn on the Al-Queda elements in Iraq, who only seek to sow death and destruction.

War is Hell:

Although the conduct of the U.S. forces was and is generally exemplary, one must not forget that war is hell. This does not refer to the abberations of abuse, murder of civilians, Abu Ghraib, or other such problems that have seen the limelight. War itself is simply hell. And war must always be so. We cannot make the Iraqis give the country to the U.S. and Al-Queda as a battlefield in the War on Terror, to let their country be the place we bring the hell of war, without their consent in the matter. Many politicians at home are fond of saying "we fight them there, so we don't have to fight them here." Leaving aside the falsity of this statement, it says to the Iraqi that we think that war is a terrible, ugly thing that must never come to the American Homeland. Of course, it is fine for Iraq. It says that their innocent war dead count less then any potential terroist victims. So if we claim to fight against terror and for freedom (and we do), then we must ensure that our fight has the legitimate backing of the people we purport to protect. War will still be hell, but at least we can be sure that we are fighting together, supported by the populace. If we cannot do so, then we must leave. Democracy cannot be created in the midst of a sectarian civil war with an occupying army hated by the local populace.
General Sherman stated "War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out." He refered to the South, in America's Civil War. It would do us well to remember this statement in Iraq, where we so glibly and willingly brought this cruelty.

Washington Wisdom:

There is a current frame of thought in vogue in the elite circles of Washington (whereby I mean the traditional version of elite, i.e. those who hold power and wealth in our society) that we musn't "abandon" Iraq. Some, usually Republican, claim that a withdrawl means a victory for Al Queda. The logic then goes that we must never withdraw until every last "terrorist" in Iraq is dead or captured. This ignores that many Iraqi "terrorists" are now Shiite militamen on the government payroll, criminals, tribal leaders, old-time Batthists, and resentful locals who seek revenge from some sort of "collateral damage" inflicted by the U.S. Coalition. There are also the Al-Queda inspiried jihadists, who do seek a return to the times of an Islamic Caliphate, hate modernity, and are clear enemeis of the United States. The occupation cannot succed against the Al-Queda elements with the other elements also sowing chaos in Iraq, and the population groups that shield these elements refusing to coopearte with either U.S. forces or the elected government. However, if the occupation is legitimized by the people of Iraq, then it drastically alters the equation. Additionally, if the people of Iraq ask us to leave and we do so, then it demonstrates to the Muslim world we harbor no ambitions of empire and only wanted to help, no matter how incompetently this help was executed.

Many in Washington, especially the current administration, label any departure a "cut and run" strategy. Their current policy seems to be "stand and die." The "dignity and democracy" plan (or "Iraqi Choice" plan, or "Honor and Freedom," etc.) avoids that which any politician fears most: to be labeled a coward, in league with Al-Queda, or an "appeaser." Many Americans were taught as children that sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. Politicans operate under the oppostie principle, and after 9-11, feel the need to out-tough each other. Pundits only seem to rate a foreign policy on how "muscular" it is, not on if it makes sense and will lead to an expansion of peace. No politician can successful waive the bloody shirt against a vote, for a vote is the purest expression of the will of the people. Anyone who opposes this policy can be labeled an imperialist, a colonial overlord, someone who endangers our troops by not allowing the occupation to be legitimicized, etc. It can be said that "they oppose freedom and democracy in Iraq." "They want to keep our troops there forever, without even asking the locals if they want us." Any political sloganist can surely come up with better, pithy statements. The Vote plan completely nuetralizes any sort of attack based on alleged weakness. That may be its sublime quality.

Conclusion: The Vote is the key to solving the paradox of America in Iraq

The vote can only do two things: Legitimize the American presence in Iraq, or provide an exit for America with honor. If we have legitimacy, then the fight for order and stability in Iraq will be greatly strengthened. If we are asked to leave, and do so, then we exit with honor. Either way, it shows to the entire Muslim world that we are not occupiers, that we wish to help, and that we respect the opinions and soverignty of the people in the middle east. It will be the single greatest act we could do to help win the hearts and minds of the people.

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