An Elegant Exit From Iraq
John V. Whitbeck
With polls showing that only two per cent of Iraqis consider Americans “liberators”, while solid majorities favour an immediate withdrawal of all American forces, a degree of scepticism as to the genuine eagerness of George W. Bush and Iyad Allawi to see free and fair elections held in January is understandable.
There is widespread assumption in the region that these elections will be postponed or, if held, will be rigged to ensure that any “sovereign” Iraqi government remains effectively subservient to American control. Nevertheless, genuinely free, fair and early elections may offer the United States the best, if not the only, hope for a relatively elegant escape from the deep hole which it has dug for itself in Iraq.
To seize this opportunity, Americans must come to grips with four hard truths which will be difficult to accept but which, if accepted, could set them (and, not incidentally, the Iraqis) free.
- America is not hated throughout the Arab world because “we love freedom” but because of America’s policies in this Arab world. Prior to the 1967 war and America’s subsequent unconditional embrace of Israel, Americans loved freedom no less, but the Western country hated in the Arab world was France. It was France which was brutalising Algerian freedom fighters, invading Egypt (with its British and Israeli allies) to seize the Suez Canal, serving as Israel’s principal arms supplier and helping to build Israel’s nuclear bomb-building facility at Dimona. By contrast, the United States, which had told the invaders of Egypt to get out or else, was genuinely popular in the Arab world. After 1967, American and French policies changed, and Arab attitudes changed accordingly. If American policies change again, this time for the better, so will Arab attitude.
- Resistance to the occupation will continue as long as the occupation continues — or until Iraqis are convinced that the Americans really do intend to leave, and to do so soon. With the United States continuing to build 14 “enduring bases” in Iraq and with its leaders speaking (with total contempt for any concept of a “sovereign” Iraqi government) of keeping American troops in Iraq for another four years (John Kerry), another 20 years (John McCain) or as long as it takes to get the job done (most of the Bush administration), Iraqis can be forgiven for believing that the United States had no “exit strategy” because it never intended to leave, planning instead a military presence in Iraq as long-lasting as those in Germany, Japan and Korea. Under these circumstances, any acts intended to convince the occupiers that the cost of staying is too high — even those deemed barbaric in the West — are apt to be viewed by most Iraqis as both justified and patriotic.
- No Iraqi government could survive long after the withdrawal of American forces without earning patriotic (hence anti-American) credentials, either from prior resistance, for its role in achieving American withdrawal or from subsequent anti-American policies. This will be equally true whether America withdraws next month or after another 20 years of occupation.
- A “democratic” government is one which accurately reflects the will of the governed. A “democratic” government is not automatically pro-American, pro-Israeli or pro-market. Indeed, under the current circumstances, any “democratic” government in the Arab world would be strongly anti-American and anti-Israeli. Iraq is no exception.
Having absorbed these hard truths, the light at the end of the tunnel comes into view. This is the scenario:
- Truly free and fair elections are held, producing a new Iraqi government which accurately reflects the will of the Iraqi people.
This new government promptly asks the United States to withdraw all its troops within a fixed, relatively short period — say, three to six months.
- The United States, in compliance with the “democratically expressed will of the Iraqi people”, agrees to do so and takes immediate, visible steps to demonstrate that it is doing so.
- The United States also promises to contribute massive reconstruction aid to Iraq over a sustained period of years after its withdrawal, such aid to be paid directly to the Iraqi government to spend as it sees fit, as is American aid to Israel. (Truly massive aid would cost much less than maintaining American forces, and would be much more appreciated.) If Iraq chooses to characterise this aid as “reparations”, the United States should not object.
- It would go without saying (and should not be said) that the United States could cut off this aid any time if it deemed Iraqi policies too anti-American. Given the destitute condition of the Iraqi economy and infrastructure after years of war, sanctions and occupation, any Iraqi government would have a strong interest in behaving in a manner which would keep this money flowing.
- More quietly, asylum in the United States is offered to all members of the American-appointed Governing Council and interim government and all other prominent Iraqis who have cooperated with the Americans and are, therefore, viewed as collaborators by their fellow Iraqis. This is the decent and honourable thing to do. (Israel opened its border to the collaborationist South Lebanon Army and their families after it withdrew its occupation forces from Lebanon.) This should also avoid gruesome scenes such as those of the charred bodies of “contractors” in Fallujah.
- Simultaneously, the United States initiates and sustains a vigorous and determined effort to actually achieve peace in Israel and Palestine, an effort explicitly based on international law and justice, two concepts which have been absent from American involvement with this conflict since 1967, but which are essential to any solution.
If this scenario is played out, most of those engaged in violent resistance in Iraq would have nothing left to resist against. The new Iraqi government would be viewed as liberators rather than collaborators, and few would wish to risk slowing down the American withdrawal. Some current hard-core jihadists, in Iraq and elsewhere, would continue to seek martyrdom by striking a blow against evil (as they see it), but finding new recruits to the cause would become difficult. Today’s broad sea of Arab and Muslim support for violent resistance to America would dry up. America would no longer be widely perceived, as it is today, as leading a Judeo-Christian crusade against Islam and Muslims, and the world would become a vastly less grim and frightening place in which to live than it is today.
It is difficult to imagine this scenario playing out if Bush is reelected. In light of his public pronouncements, it is not easy to imagine it playing out if Kerry is elected either. Still, it is not an impossible scenario. Realistically, is there a better one?
Published Saturday, October 2nd, 2004 - 04:43am GMT
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