Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What Will It Take?

UPDATE: The death toll from the car bombings in the Yazidi villages in northern Iraq has now reached 400, making it the worst attack of the war.

Over 250 people were killed in a series of car bombings in Iraq yesterday, with 300 to 350 wounded, and the death toll likely to continue climbing as they dig through the rubble.

I don't know what's more depressing - the continuing apocalypse in Iraq or the growing sense that the Democrats won't get us out of there even if they get elected. (A huge if.) They seem too busy burnishing their own chicken-hawk/warmonger creds, arguing over which ally to nuke, or saying we'll probably be in Iraq forever. I couldn't even read this New York Times article when I first saw the headline: Democrats Say Leaving Iraq May Take Years.

The Democrats and some of their supporters have an endless number of excuses for why their hands are tied over the war. They have to be cautious. Bush is still in power. They have to develop "political will." We don't want a bloodbath. Have to support the troops. Public not ready. We have interests in the region. Yadda-yadda-yadda.

Meanwhile, on the right-hand side of my blog, there is a ticker that shows how much we've spent on the war so far. It says at this moment: $452,232,691,279. If you click on the link below it, you can see the cost for your community and what else could have been done with the money. I tried Brooklyn, which showed a cost of $3,903,401, 415, and Public Education, since Brooklyn could definitely use a little help with its schools. Instead of that $4 billion going to war, "we could have hired 67,646 additional public school teachers for one year." Or 6,765 teachers for the next ten years. And that's just one small part.

We're not even talking, of course, about the lives lost, mangled and permanently damaged. Both American and Iraqi.

There is already a bloodbath in Iraq, and it's going to have to run its course, whether our troops remain there or not. To say that we have a responsibility to stay, now that we've started this apocalypse, sounds good on the surface. We broke it, we have to fix it. Except for one small problem. We can't fix it. We can't even solve the problems in our own country. Why do we think we'll be able to fix Iraq if we stay longer? When we obviously don't understand their history, their culture, their religion, their language, etc. In the end, this argument is just a thinly disguised cover for age-old paternalistic colonialism. I'm sure the British, when they were doing such a great job of screwing things up in the same part of the world in the 1920s, said the same thing. "The natives are too stupid to do it right. Only we can." It's the "civilized" white man's pride. Nothing more.

I'm well aware of the potential for regional chaos and the danger of a weakened nation-state being a harbor for terrorists. I recognize very well the threat of groups like Al-Qaeda. One of the reasons I was against this war in the beginning was because I thought it would be a disaster in any genuine campaign to take on Islamic militants.

But keeping U.S. forces in Iraq isn't going to change the dangerous situation, and, according to the CIA's own reports has actually made things worse in the fight against terror. If we want - finally - to wage a real war on terror, we need to get out of Iraq.

It's interesting to me that Bill Richardson, the one Democratic candidate with real foreign policy credentials and who has negotiated with the Taliban and a host of other bad dudes, is the one who remains the most forceful on getting U.S. Troops out of Iraq. And he seems to understand why it's important. Here's part of what he says:

The Iraq War is costing Americans $8 billion each month. By implementing my plan to de-authorize the war and withdraw ALL troops in six months, we can start redirecting these funds toward what matters most for Americans: improving education, expanding access to quality health care, and addressing the REAL security threats like the Taliban, nuclear proliferation, and global warming.

No Residual Forces Left Behind

We must remove ALL of our troops. There should be no residual US forces left in Iraq. Most Iraqis, and most others in the region, believe that we are there for their oil, and this perception is exploited by Al Qaeda, other insurgents, and anti-American Shia groups. By announcing that we intend to remove ALL troops, we would deprive them of this propaganda tool. And once all US troops are out of Iraq, Al Qaeda foreigners will no longer be able to justify their presence there, and the Iraqis will drive them out.

Promote Iraqi Reconciliation

We should promote an Iraqi Reconciliation Conference to bring the factions together to seek compromises and to begin confidence-building measures, including the end of militia violence. Our redeployment will give us more leverage than we have now, caught in the crossfire, to get the Iraqis to reconcile.

Work With All Neighbors and Allies

We should convene a regional conference to secure the cooperation of all of Iraq's neighbors -- including Syria and Iran -- in promoting peace and stability. Among the key objectives of such a conference should be guarantees of non-interference, as well as the creation of a multilateral force of UN peacekeepers. The US should support such a force, but it should be composed of non-US, primarily Muslim troops.

You can read the rest of his plan here. (Again, this isn't meant as an endorsement.)

Yesterday was another day of Hell in Iraq.

More than 200 [250] people were slaughtered when four suicide truck bombs targeted the ancient Yazidi religious sect in northern Iraq amid growing fears Wednesday that more dead were trapped under the rubble.

In one of the bloodiest single incidents of the four-year war in Iraq, bombers detonated four explosive-laden trucks in two villages in the province of Nineveh inhabited by members of Iraq's Yazidi minority late Tuesday.

Victims were ferried to hospitals across northern Iraq as local clinics struggled to deal with the overwhelming number of dead and wounded, with rescue workers to continue searching for survivors in the rubble of pancaked homes.

"The casualties are expected to rise as many victims are still trapped under the debris," Hassun told AFP by telephone.

I'll let Juan Cole give you the rest of the day's highlights:

The situation in Iraq is so horrific that merely bad news is drowned out by the truly awful. Thus, on Tuesday, guerrillas bombed a major bridge connecting Taji and Baghdad with the north, throwing several cars into the river and killing some 10 persons. I.e., this is a Minneapolis-scale event. But it will barely get mentioned given the massive bombings of the Yazidis.

10 US troops have been killed in the past two days
, including 5 who died in a helicopter crash Tuesday. Ten. That's worth a headline all by itself.

Likewise this story about "US raid on Shi'ite slum sparks anger on streets"
. It is suspicious that the US military claims never to kill civilians in Sadr City, while the Shiites are always having funeral processions for children.

The Deputy Oil Minister and several of his aides
were kidnapped at gun point by 50 men in the uniform of the Iraqi security forces on Tuesday. This incident speaks volumes about the lack of security in Baghdad still, since the deputy oil minister should have had the resources to protect himself.
So, what will it take to end this nightmare?

I said to Liam the other day that the politicians (Republicans and Democrats alike) weren't going to do anything about Iraq until the dirty masses were at the palace gates with torches in hand. Before the war began, I helped organize four events for Brooklyn Poets Against the War. It felt like a feeble effort at times, despite good turn-outs and good poetry. I got discouraged after the war started and haven't seen the point in doing events like this again. But I think I'm ready to do something.

My aunt asked me the other night why young people didn't seem to have the same urgency to end the war this time as they did during Vietnam. There have been some protests, but the movement doesn't seem as energetic or empowered to her. We put it off in the end to the lack of a draft. Who knows why? But it made me realize that I can't hope that college kids or anti-war protesters will do my work for me. The responsibility for stopping this madness is up to all of us. Even if they get elected (again, a huge if), the Democrats are still politicians, and they're not going to stop this war until they're forced to. Waiting for January 2009 in the hopes that Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama are suddenly going to bring about a big change in Iraq, instead of - say, nuking Pakistan - doesn't feel like a wise and mature decision. It feels like delusion.

It's time for something else. I don't know what that entails yet. But I need to get off my ass and do my part.


crystal said...

I saw this in a column of peace activist John Dear SJ a while ago. It was an interfaith ad place in the NY Times - link and link - An Ethical Way To End The War In Iraq. Kind of interesting.

Jeff said...

Good post, William.

It deserves a lengthy reply. I'll post one up when I get a chance.


I just started reading a book about Peacework by Henri Nouwen. The foreward and editing were done by John Dear. It's very good, I recommend it highly.

Jeff said...


This was a great post. Sorry about not getting back to it sooner. I think as long as George Bush is in this lame duck presidency, with nothing to gain, and nothing to lose politically, it is going to continue on like this until the end of his term. Basically, the Democrats are going to have to capture both the congress and the executive branch for this thing to be wrapped up.

Still, there are difficulties even with that. The problem with Iraq is that ALL of the solutions are bad ones (There is a term for that... I can't remember what it is. I heard Tom Ricks, the author of "Fiasco" use it once).

On top of that, General Petraus (sic?) is smarter than Rumsfeld and all the previous generals put together, so while he might be achieving some limited military successes, and raising the hopes a some hawks, it sort of masks the fact that the Maliki government is making absoultely no progress with sectarian reconciliation. Oddly enough, al Qaeda seems to have overplayed it's hand in Anbar and Diyala. I think it was in "Assasins' Gate" that I read about the hierarchy of loyalties in Iraq:

1) Family
2) Tribe
3) Islamic Sect
4) Iraq.. A very distant 4th.

I think too many people are taking heart out of the fact that the Sunni tribal leaders seem to have turned against al Qaeda, but they seem to not want to see the fact that they are also biding their time for the real anticipated showdown with the Shia. This Iraq thing morphs all the time. It's like a different war every year, but it's still a disaster every year.

Them there is the big question. What happens when we finally leave? Although Iraq may seem like it is in total meltdown in a full-scale civil war right now, I actually do think it could be a lot worse. Remember what happened when the Israelis pulled out of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon and allowed the Phalangists to go in? I fear that such massacres are going to happen on a massive scale once we have pulled out of Iraq. Ultimately, having made this mess and having "broken" Iraq, what is our responsibility here? Do we still have one at this point?

cowboyangel said...


Thanks for the links. See that Tony Campolo co-drafted the statement. I saw him back in the 80s, kind of liked his stuff back then.

I think one of the strategies that should be developed further is the spiritual one - bringing together many different religious people. The Tikkun ad is a start, but looking at the signees, it's sort of the typical liberal thing. I think at this point, there are more conservative people who could be reached in a Day of Prayer and Fasting or something along those lines.

And then there's the rock-throwing.

cowboyangel said...


You're right, there's not really one war going on. There's a civil war, tribal power plays, the U.S. Occupation, Al-Qaeda, etc. It does morph, doesn't it?

It probably would get a lot worse in the short run if we pulled out. But in the long run, I think it's the only way to resolve the situation. We can't make people like each other any more than we can force them to embrace "democracy." That's been obvious. They've simply got to find their own solution. It could easily be ugly. (On the other hand, I wonder if we keep saying it will be so ugly because we can't imagine other people fixing things better than we can.)

I think we do have a responsibility - to pull out. We have to do it in a responsible way. And we need to push for more international involvement, though, to be honest, at this point, I'm not sure who's going to want to go in and clean up our mess. The UN left because of security considerations. Have they gotten any better? I don't think so. We need to keep working with the Iraqis - I just think it needs to be done from "outside" the situation rather than in the middle of it. I think Richardson's points are good ones - that we'll only be able to negotiate with all the crucial parties when we are no longer occupiers. People simply don't like being occupied.

cowboyangel said...

Basically, the Democrats are going to have to capture both the congress and the executive branch for this thing to be wrapped up.

Forgot this point. My question now, though, is will the Democrats really do much even if they do get congress and the executive branch? I feel like they're equivocating. Not only do I find this disturbing for the future of Iraq, but I think they're blowing an opportunity to capture the White House. Obama, in particular, puzzles me, giving up his one trump card - voting against the war. If he's no different in the end than Hillary, I think people will choose Hillary as the nominee, because she has more experience and is more known to them. I really question his strategy.