Wednesday, November 22, 2006

To Leave or Not to Leave

The Iraqis apparently do not desire to have us in Iraq any longer:

PIPA has released a new poll of Iraqi attitudes toward the U.S. occupation, and the takeaway is very, very clear: they want us to leave. 74% of Shiites and 91% of Sunnis want us to leave within a year (the number is 80% for Shiites in Baghdad). By wide margins, both groups believe U.S. forces are provoking more violence than they're preventing, and both groups believe that day-to-day security would improve if we left. Support for attacks on U.S. forces now commands majority support among both Shiites and Sunnis. And none of this is because of successful al-Qaeda propaganda: 94% of Iraqis continue to disapprove of al-Qaeda.

Now, it may be that these views are misguided. But it hardly matters: it's simply not possible for us to occupy the country successfully if a majority of Iraqis actively support attacks on our troops and a vast majority think we're responsible for the rising violence. It's time for us to leave.

It's hard to argue with numbers like that, but George Packer will try:

It is true that the presence of American troops is a source of great tension and violence in Iraq, and that overwhelming numbers of Iraqis want them to leave. But it is also true that wherever American troop levels have been reduced—in Falluja and Mosul in 2004, in Tal Afar in 2005, in Baghdad in 2006—security has deteriorated. In the absence of adequate and impartial Iraqi forces, Sunni insurgents or Shiite militias have filled the power vacuum with a reign of terror. An American withdrawal could produce the same result on a vast scale. That is why so many Iraqis, after expressing their ardent desire to see the last foreign troops leave their country, quickly add, “But not until they clean up the mess they made.” And it is why a public-service announcement scrolling across the bottom of the screen during a recent broadcast on an Iraqi network said, “The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians not comply with the orders of the Army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area.”

I don't know where Packer got the addendum to the poll results that he tosses in there, but he's otherwise correct to say that where are troops are not, there is considerably less security. It is hard to argue about withdrawal when the Iraqis say they want us gone, but I think it's quite reasonable to argue that things will not get better once we leave (though it's almost impossible to imagine how it could get worse than this.) Sure, it'll sap the insurgency, but the real war is now between the Sunnis and the Shiites, and those insurgents now attacking our troops will find plenty of targets in the Iraqi government, Shiite militias, and Iraqi civilians, once we leave. Perhaps the Iraqis are doing some wishful thinking. (They'd hardly be the only ones to let emotion get in the way of reason. After all, a majority of Americans at one time believed that Saddam had something to do with 9/11.) Or perhaps things really would get better. Who really knows?

When we do end up leaving (as it seems we will inevitably do now), we should heed something else Packer says:

If the United States leaves Iraq, our last shred of honor and decency will require us to save as many of these Iraqis as possible. In June, a U.S. Embassy cable about the lives of the Iraqi staff was leaked to The Washington Post. Among many disturbing examples of intimidation and fear was this sentence: "In March, a few staff approached us to ask what provisions would we make for them if we evacuate." The cable gave no answer. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad does not issue visas. Iraqis who want to come to the United States must make their way across dangerous territory to a neighboring country that has a U.S. Embassy with a consular section. Iran and Syria do not; Jordan has recently begun to bar entry to Iraqi men under the age of 35. For a military translator to have a chance at coming to the United States, he must be able to prove that he worked for at least a year with U.S. forces and have the recommendation of a general officer--nearly impossible in most cases. Our current approach essentially traps Iraqis inside their country [...]

We should start issuing visas in Baghdad, as well as in the regional embassies in Mosul, Kirkuk, Hilla, and Basra. We should issue them liberally, which means that we should vastly increase our quota for Iraqi refugees. (Last year, it was fewer than 200.) We should prepare contingency plans for massive airlifts and ground escorts. We should be ready for desperate and angry crowds at the gates of the Green Zone and U.S. bases. We should not allow wishful thinking to put off these decisions until it's too late. We should not compound our betrayals of Iraqis who put their hopes in our hands.

I think whatever side of the debate you're on, you can agree with that. Frankly, we should be willing to admit about as many Iraqis as we can get over here into our country ("Sorry about what we did to your country; here's ours in exchange.") That won't happen, but neither should we be ready to run out on them and consider our hands washed clean of the whole dirty episode when the last soldier leaves Iraq. We acted shamefully in Vietnam to leave many people who counted on us for their lives behind. It seems an "honorable withdrawal" meant merely that we should get out without anyone thinking we were any weaker; in other words it was about pride, not honor. We disgraced ourselves by intervening in Vietnam, disgraced ourselves by killing 2 million Vietnamese on the basis of a theory named after a game, and disgraced ourselves further by getting out of Vietnam without providing for all those who were relying on us, and by cutting funding to those South Vietnamese who still were trying to defend their country. That mistake should not be made again; our moral obligation to Iraq as a nation, and each individual Iraqi person, does not end when the last soldiers steps on that C-130 flying out of Baghdad airport. True honor requires that we help Iraqis who want to leave get out of their country as soon as they can, and settle them here in the U.S. if they have nowhere else to go.

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