Towards A Good Samaritan World

Friday, December 15, 2006


Ellen Goodman at the Seattle Times has the right idea:

Now that the Iraq Study Group has handed in its term paper, now that we have stopped talking about "winning" and are waiting for the president to offer nothing new, may I suggest an exit strategy. Why not hold an election? Why not ask people to vote on whether American troops should stay or go?

I'm not talking about an American election. After all, we already voted against the Iraq war in November. This week, a CBS poll says that75 percent of us now disapprove of the president's handling of the war.

I'm talking rather about letting the Iraqis vote. I'm talking about an Iraq referendum on whether we should leave within a year.

I realize that we don't really put wars up to a vote. It may be a flaw of democracy. And I realize that we don't let foreigners make our foreign-policy decisions, even when war is on their soil. Nor do we allow foreigners to determine our national interest, although we may determine theirs.

But Iraqis and Americans are supposedly allies, even if we are trapped in their civil war. We went into Iraq on the false assumption that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. In Condoleezza Rice's infamous phrase, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." When it became apparent that there were no WMD, no mushroom-cloud makers, the president justified the war as a way of bringing democracy to Iraq.

The brightest moment in the whole fiasco occurred this past December when 70 percent of Iraqis went to the polls and the purple ink-stained finger became the emblem of hope. The president said the vote proved that "America has an ally of growing strength in the fight against terror." Well, not exactly.

A year later, the Iraq Study Group calls the situation "grave and deteriorating." The "experts" in Washington now pin the blame for failure on the culture, the character, the history or the religions of the Iraqis. The executive summary of the report says, "The most important questions about Iraq's future are now the responsibility of the Iraqis. The United States must adjust its role in Iraq to encourage the Iraqi people to take control of their own destiny."

Then why not have them vote on their own destiny?

As the president said, "We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done, so long as the government wants us there." Why not let the Iraqi people say whether they want us there? He says that we'll stay until the Iraqis establish a country that can sustain itself, govern itself, defend itself. Who will decide when that moment has come? Why not let the Iraqis be the "deciders"?

Exactly. Spread the word! I hope this meme picks up enough steam that the "realists" and the Bushies will have to either to embrace it or respond to it.

UPDATE: Nato thinks letting Iraqis vote would just lead to civil war. My preferred referendum would be conducted as follows: we would promise to (a) withdraw from the whole country if the vote against us was 75% or more, and (b) retain responsibility for all areas of the country if less than 50% want us out. Finally, if (c) those voting for us to leave are between 50% and 75%, but majorities in some regions wanted us to stay, we would reserve the right to maintain local occupations, on the sole ground that some local populations had voted for protection against potential ethnic cleansing. This would be negotiated with the Iraqi government. How likely the third outcome is I don't know. But at least we would try to get a mandate to protect selected areas from ethnic cleansing. Naturally we would do our best to get UN support for this limited mission. They probably wouldn't help too much with troops, but they might be able to provide some useful expertise and boost legitimacy.


  • As seductive as I find the idea of letting the Iraqis vote us out so they can go ahead and have their brutal civil war, there's a black band on my wrist that probably won't let my conscience sleep. A good man - one of a great many - gave his life for the future of Iraq and its people, and we would be retreating from that cause, shielded by the will of an angry, bewildered and desperate people for whose welfare we assumed responsibility 3.5 years ago. It's a condescending attitude, but there are legitimate causes for condescension here.

    Whatever. I want out of this thing, and if this allows it to do it with the least damage to our credibility and with the greatest chance of maybe doing a better job next time in penance, well, then, I'll just apologize to the memory of the dead and be happy that my girl didn't get stop-lossed.

    By Anonymous Nato, at 2:06 PM  

  • The comment about boosting legitimacy is an important one. Our lack of legitimacy has been a major stink on our occupation that has attracted flies and made us less welcome amongst many who might otherwise have been inclined thereto. A vote in our favor in any respect would be helpful, and a UN blessing would be even more so. Visible UN blue-helmets would be even more so, though I concede in advance to the inevitable neo-con complaint that they would have next to zero military impact and only a very minor intelligence-gathering contribution. It's a little like the enlisted/officer divide: we will probably have to do all teh heavy lifting, but even if the officers never do any actual work in their own right, they're very useful for providing cover from those who want to make the job harder.

    By Blogger Nato, at 7:22 PM  

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