Why we should leave Iraq immediately

(Text of the talk prepared for the Camp Casey meeting held on Friday, September 9, 2005 at Church of the Savior, Lee Road, Cleveland Heights.)

I suspect that most of us who are here are people who opposed the war on Iraq from the beginning. So I will not spend time making the argument that a country that waged an immoral and illegal war after selling it to the nation and the world under the false pretenses of weapons of mass destruction is not a country that should be allowed to continue its domination of the country it conquered.

Instead, I will address my remarks to those of us who are genuinely upset at the death, injuries, and havoc that has been wreaked on both the Iraqi people and the American soldiers occupying that country and their families back home. Such well-meaning people now seek to salvage whatever good that can be extracted from an essentially impossible situation, a situation that has been created by the political leadership of this country who either knew, or should have known, better and yet recklessly went ahead with this disastrous policy.

The group of well-meaning people trying desperately to salvage something good from this bad situation fall into two categories: those who favor an immediate withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and those who feel there is a case to be made for staying on until some suitable stage is reached that would allow for the gradual withdrawing of troops.

Although I can understand, appreciate, and sympathize with the reasons given for staying on for a while, I belong to the group favoring immediate withdrawal. Some of the arguments favoring immediate withdrawal are in the flyer that was handed out and I will not repeat them. The flyer, incidentally, also makes suggestions for what you can do.

In broad terms, the arguments for not withdrawing US troops immediately fall into two categories: humanitarian and those of US national interest.

The humanitarian argument says that since it was the US invasion that destroyed the infrastructure that had made Iraq a functioning country and held the different ethnic groups in Iraq together, US troops need to stay on for some time to rebuild the country’s infrastructure so as to prevent anarchy or an ethnic bloodbath or the splitting up of the country.

Unfortunately, the history of what happens after colonial powers leave a country (and Iraq is now effectively a colony of the US) is not encouraging. Even after over 150 years of occupation in India and my own native Sri Lanka, the departure of the British led to ethnic conflicts on a major scale in both countries. It is a similar story in the many African and Asian countries that suffered under colonial rule. In fact one can make the case that the longer the colonial power stays, the greater the chance of such a conflict erupting because rather than resolving the underlying issues, the colonial power merely suppresses them, and usually tends to get identified as being partial to one side or the other. This situation breeds increasing and simmering unrest that can explode once the lid is lifted with the departure of the colonial army. So the longer the US military stays, the greater the risk of trouble when (and if) they leave.

Furthermore, it is hard to convince the Iraqi people that the US is there temporarily for humanitarian reasons when the biggest embassy in the world and massive permanent military bases are being constructed in their country. This fact alone is guaranteed to generate suspicion of the US’s motives for invading Iraq, and stimulate an equally permanent insurgency, which like all struggles against an occupying military force, tends to get stronger with time, not weaker.

The second reason given to stay there is that of US national interest. It is argued that to withdraw immediately would be to concede that the US has lost the war and would show weakness in the eyes of the world. But we have to realize that when you are battling a guerilla insurgency, then even a stalemate (which is what seems to be the current state) is effectively seen as a defeat for the occupying traditional army. So in some senses, this war is already ‘lost,’ as even some Republican senators like Charles Grassley are conceding.

What the stalemate in Iraq has also done is actually expose a critical US military weakness. What the world sees is that a rag-tag group of insurgents, using low-level weaponry and seemingly without mass support of even its own population, has managed to tie down the US military into a no-win situation.

Another national interest argument is the infamous ‘fly paper strategy,’ which asserts that having the insurgents fight the US army in Iraq keeps them occupied and prevents them from carrying out attacks in the US itself. I have heard this argument often, usually in the form of alliterative couplets such as “We must fight them in Mosul so we don’t fight them in Minneapolis” or “We must fight them in Tikrit so we don’t fight them in Tuscaloosa.”

This argument makes no sense. Apart from the unconscionable use of the US military as some kind of bait, to serve merely as targets for random acts of violence, we must never forget that Iraq and Iraqis have not committed any terrorist attacks against the US. Furthermore, the opportunity to repel an occupying army is, as opposed to distracting them from other targets, probably creating more recruits, both foreign and domestic, for the insurgency,

And finally is it really in the US national interest to have such a large fraction of its army and national guard permanently held hostage in a foreign country, effectively under siege in a few safe zones? What if another national emergency like Katrina occurs?

The final reason I will give for withdrawing from Iraq immediately is that, for all intents and purposes, an incipient civil war has already begun in Iraq even with the US troops there, so to argue that US troops there to prevent a civil war is being seen as increasingly hollow.

Whatever the reasons given in favor of continued occupation, they are clearly not working. We have been given repeated promises that after this or that event, things would get better. But as this graph created by Case for Peace activist Norman Robbins tellingly demonstrates, if we take the rate of deaths of US troops as a measure of the intensity of the insurgency, each of these so-called “turning points” has been anything but. So if what we have been doing so far has not improved anything, what is the logic of continuing doing the same thing? (See The Intelligence Squad Reports for a similar but more detailed graph.)

Calling for the immediate withdrawal of US forces from Iraq should definitely not mean that we wash our hands of responsibility for that country or its people. We owe the Iraqi people a huge debt for (1) helping Saddam Hussein consolidate his power over the people of Iraq; (2) supporting him during the period of some of his worst excesses; and (3) the massive loss of life, both direct and indirect, that runs into the hundreds of thousands and which was caused by the ten years of sanctions leading up to the war, and the deaths and destruction caused by the war itself.

What it does mean is that we should use the billions of dollars that are currently being spent on the military occupation of Iraq to instead rebuild the hospitals, the water supply and sanitation systems, the schools, the roads, and the destroyed lives of the people in devastated areas, not only of Iraq, but also of Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama.

POST SCRIPT 1: What happened to the anthrax investigation?

Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the anthrax attacks, which occurred right after the 9/11 attacks and helped to provide the emotional basis for the attacks on Iraq. Remember that? Like me, you may be wondering why such an important investigation seemingly went nowhere and what its current status is. Justin Raimondo, editorial director of the website Antiwar.com, followed that investigation closely and provides an update.

POST SCRIPT 2: Constitution Day Forum

Case will host a forum on the topic: What Should Be in a Constitution?
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Strosacker Auditorium, Case Western Reserve University
4:30 – 6:00 p.m.
(Reception with refreshments, 4:00 – 4:30 p.m., Strosacker Lobby)

With the First Annual Constitution Day Forum, Case initiates a series of discussions of how the Constitution works and affects our lives. This year’s forum asks the most basic of questions: “What Should Be in a Constitution?”

The U.S. Constitution is distinctly shorter than the constitutions of other countries or of American states. It is also the oldest written constitution in the world. Does that mean we should be glad when amendments fail? Or does that mean our system is out-of-date and too slow to change?

Faculty from history, law, and political science will speak briefly, and then the floor will be open for discussion.

– Laura Y. Tartakoff, J.D., adjunct associate professor of political science, will moderate the forum.

– Elizabeth Bussiere, Ph.D., visiting associate professor of political science, will consider “Courts and Welfare Rights,” why the courts have not found such rights in the Constitution.

– Jonathan Entin, J.D., professor of law and political science, will discuss “Budgets and Flags: Current Proposals for Constitutional Amendments.”

– Ken Ledford, J.D., Ph.D., associate professor of history and law, will contrast our constitution to others, discussing “The Constitution for Europe and Positive Liberties.”

– Ted Mearns, J.D., emeritus professor of law, will discuss “What Shouldn’t Be in a Constitution.”

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