Two articles follow: The first is the cover story for Time magazine last week. The second is a piece I lamely shopped around to City Pages & The Rake last October. I post this for three reasons: 1) As a lesson to myself. The Time article is obviously vastly superior, because it is more specific & better reported. Still, I think that many ideas are very similar. Lesson: if you (I) feel strongly enough to write something, don't half-ass it--follow it through to the end. 2) I post with a chip on my shoulder, I confess. I still feel that at the time my article was worth a chance at publication. & 3) Now I have a place to put it; then I didn't. And no one would put it anywhere for me. So.
(Note: I doubt I would write the same piece today, but I didn't want to change it, because that would negate the purpose of the compare & contrast nature of this post.)
Can’t Leave: A Democrat’s reasons why the U.S. should not pull its military out of Iraq
There is much talk in the political landscape these days of pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq as quickly as possible. This talk stems from arguments that the U.S. is losing young men and women needlessly, or as the Minneapolis Star Tribune put it, “spend[ing] more American blood… on a lost cause” (November 6, 2006). The crucial problem with this line of thinking is that it has little regard for all human life, and holds only U.S. lives to the standard that should be extended to everyone, U.S. citizen or not.
In the beginning of the war in Iraq those of us who were against it never bought into the idea that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat. Then, when our view was later justified by the fact that no weapons of mass destruction were found, the Bush Administration quickly changed its rhetoric to the tune of the war as humanitarian action, as in Saddam was a terrible man doing terrible things to many people, and it was only right and just for us to stop him. While this sentiment is true, those of us opposed to the war weren’t buying this justification either. Or, truer still, weren’t buying that any of the people making the argument for war really cared about the people Saddam was oppressing and killing. If we cared (care) so much for human life and its defense, where are our troops on the ground in Darfur and North Korea?
While no one supports the deaths of thousands of troops thus far, nor those inevitably to come, the idea of removing all our troops from Iraq as quickly as possible places a greater emphasis on those human lives than on those of the Iraqi people we claimed, albeit secondarily, to wish to protect.
This is not a thought process distinct to the U.S. All countries look to first and foremost defend the lives of their citizenry. And rightly so. However, the problem in our present situation is that, by starting this war we have made Iraq a more dangerous place for its citizenry. We have created a country that, depending on who you ask, is either bordering on a civil war, or is in the midst of a full-blown civil war. Semantics aside, the fact is that the number of people dying in Iraq each day has risen due to our presence, with mutilated bodies showing up in the streets by the dozens having become the order of the day.
Now, if those sentiments of a true humanitarian mission (i.e. Saddam was killing and had to be stopped) held any water, our country and its leaders would be far more troubled by this fact than anyone seems to be. If there were a real concern for human life, not just U.S. life, the fact that at the very least tens of thousands of Iraqi people have been killed since our presence began would outrage anyone holding those views.
If even in the midst of the strongest military power in the world these countless deaths are taking place, imagine what the scenario would look like without the presence of the U.S. military. Certainly if those who argue Iraq is only now bordering on civil war are correct, a complete evacuation of U.S. military personnel from the country would be the final step in allowing the teeter-totter to fall to the side of full-scale civil war, leading to even more Iraqi deaths.
In plain terms, and in words sounding too close to those on the right for my usual comfort, our country needs to finish what it started. Or rather, needs to fix the mess we’ve created. The arguments for evacuation do not include a plan for this, and do not address anything outside of the number of U.S. lives that would be saved. An important, but certainly not the only number to be addressed.
Having not agreed with the use of military action in Iraq from the beginning, I do not think that this will be done through military means alone. However, because of the present violence that blankets most of Iraq now, it does not seem possible to make the necessary changes through non-military action alone, either.
What needs to occur, and this is true of all decisions made by our “leaders” in a world that continues to get smaller and smaller each day and with each new technological advance, is policy- and decision-making based on a respect for all of human life, rather than just those who can prove they are U.S. citizens. Yes, it is true that we need to defend ourselves against those who wish to do us harm, and this would be more efficiently accomplished if our troops were more available to our needs at home (i.e. protecting our ports, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, etc.) and for actual possible imminent dangers (i.e. Iran, North Korea, et al.). But, we have placed our military in a situation and that situation has become worse for all parties involved. It is not fair to those whose lives are depending on the protection we, by creating the situation, have promised them to leave that situation as it stands now.
There needs to be a true humanitarian showing first by our policies, then enacted by our military present in Iraq. Look at the aftermath of the Israeli-Hezbollah war. Hezbollah, a terrorist group to be sure, immediately began a “humanitarian” effort of rebuilding houses and neighborhoods that had been destroyed by actions taken in that month-long affair. Within days roads were cleared and rebuilding had begun, and Hezbollah came off looking like champions of the people to those who could once again drive their streets. How often do we hear of the Iraqi infrastructure still being in shambles, with neighborhoods lacking water, electricity, and other necessities they once held?
Someone, undoubtedly much wiser than I, once said we are the greatest country in the world by default. It is time now to once again be the greatest country in the world, not because others fail to take the position, but because our actions throughout the world cannot be surpassed, only imitated by others. This must begin with an empathy for all human life, not just those we call our own.
Let us use the rhetoric given to us to cover a mistake and turn it into truth. Saddam was an awful person. He should not have been in a position of power so unchecked it led to the death of many innocent people. This could be said of many in power throughout the world. But we went into Iraq, not many other places throughout the world. It would be wrong to leave it the way it is now. But our efforts need to change, and it needs to be understood by the Iraqi people living in constant fear that those efforts have changed. We need to act on the message we have been telling these people throughout: that we are there for them; we are trying to make their lives better.
Pulling our troops out now would send the opposite message. Pulling out our troops now would not be an action taken by the greatest country in the world. Making the world a better, safer place beginning in the place we made worse and more dangerous would be an action taken by the greatest country in the world.
Let us be that country, not because those before us have given us the title, but because we have earned it.
When You Get Bored Here, Go Here:
- David Luke Doody
- David Luke Doody is a freelance writer and editor. He is a founding editor of InDigest Magazine (www.indigestmag.com), an online literary magazine and the blog editor for Guernica Magazine (www.guernicamag.com). His writing and interviews have appeared in those magazines as well as in The Huffington Post, mnartists.org, The Minnesota Twins Yearbook, and Intentionally Urban Magazine, among others.
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