The 2003 invasion of Iraq shows why we can’t trust right-wing pundits and establishment government figures to make good policy. Liberals must lead on this issue. But what is the best policy for the U.S. in Iraq given the very real threat emerging from a radical and potentially powerful new state made from pieces of Iraq and Syria?
Liberals have distinctly different values from conservatives. The great failure of our past policy in Iraq comes from both flaws in conservative values and deficiencies turning their values into policy. It also comes from filtering out all liberal values from the equation.
What I want to see in the media are experts on Iraq who were not proponents of the 2003 invasion. What I want are people carrying a strong policy response based on liberal values. Those people need to address our concerns:
- We care about humans and want to see an end to the violence.
- We believe in secular society, not sectarian society.
- We care about the economy and the environment, and we look at that from both a global and a local perspective.
The most immediate need, then, is to provide humanitarian assistance, while looking for a way to stop the fighting, and then develop a new peace structure. Whether that is one, two or three Iraqs has to come out of the needs of the people in that region.
We should be very restrained about putting in troops, even “advisors”. What do our advisors know that the Iraqis don’t?
We need to respond quickly to the humanitarian crisis, but take our time and develop policy for the military and political one.
We hear that ISIS is radical, “too radical for al Qaeda”. This is intended to scare us into action. But the truth is that any government that eventually governs western Iraq is going to be far more moderate than ISIS. There’s only one resource to fund that region, and it’s oil. Whoever controls it will be relatively moderate—if they want to sell that oil anywhere else in the world.
What policy do you want to see the U.S. pursue? What needs to replace the crazy right-wing policy that got us mired in Iraq for ten years and resulted in this mess? Meet me on the other side of the fold.
Here are my questions, and I invite your comments below.
I put forward some key liberal values above. Did I miss anything? Do you disagree with any of them? Should any of them be revised?
Conservatives seemed to act on certain principles in pursuing the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Those include:
- All your resources belong us. We have a good excuse so we’re going to grab all your oil.
- Spending money on the military increases U.S. security, and using the military increases U.S. dominance in the world, which makes us feel more secure.
- Americans have the right form of government (let’s call it democracy), and we perceive Iraq to be just a dictatorship, so we should change your form of government, Iraq.
- No one gets the better of the U.S., so if we’re attacked we’ll strike back to make the point we won’t tolerate anyone attacking us.
We could sum up these “values” as “American exceptionalism”. That is, we’re better than anyone else and it’s our right and obligation to force everyone else to go along.
I think American exceptionalism has a place. The U.S. is exceptional. We have exceptional ideals. The way to be exceptional Americans is to live up to those ideals. But using it as a basis for waging war and abusing non-Americans is the exact opposite of living up to those ideals.
Given our values, what should we do in Iraq? I put forward some elements of policy above. Those include:
- Provide humanitarian assistance.
- Stop the fighting.
- Develop a new peace structure.
I’ve heard a lot about the fighting and the politics, but I don’t think I’ve seen a single story about Doctors Without Borders or any other humanitarian effort. What’s going on with that? That should be our main focus at this point.
What’s the mechanism for getting a cease fire? Or, is that off the table because the al-Maliki government is launching a military attack to regain western Iraq? We should try to prevent that. We may have enabled a civil war when we invaded, but that doesn’t mean we should stand by while it plays out. Bad as it might be to have ISIS take over a big portion of Iraq, a military response from the Iraqi government is not going to solve the problem. In the “best case” they would kick ISIS out of the region and restore their control. But then what? The people there will have all the same gripes plus the additional one they’ve been overrun twice by armies. It’s one thing to conquer territory; it’s another to control it.
But I suspect this isn’t going to play out that way. What’s the incentive for Nouri al-Maliki to let an armed rebellion strip off some of the most valuable areas of the country? We probably don’t have a say in this, and in the long run we may be better off to stay out until it’s much more settled.
Nevertheless, if the people in an area want independence we need to support a peaceful way to make that happen. What’s going on diplomatically that would allow people in western Iraq to get their civil and humanitarian rights met? There will come a time when that will come to the forefront, and we should be on board from the very beginning.
In the long term, the best policy for this area is actually a domestic policy: Strong support of renewable energy. Every time we move our energy use from fossil to renewable sources we reduce the power of those in the Middle East who depend on oil as the source of that power. The neo-cons have dragged us into fight after fight and war after war overseas in what (stripped of all the high-minded rhetoric and scare tactics) comes down to securing oil supplies. Get rid of the need. It’s better for the environment and better for the economy. This crisis should remind us how vital it is to convert now.
There’s a great temptation given our recent experience to do nothing. That can translate into a policy on the left to say, “Don’t do anything. Just let it all play out.” That would be a bad idea, because the neo-cons are ever ready to jump into any silence and use any crisis to their advantage. We can’t afford that vacuum. We need to have a strong policy response, but one consistent with our values.
That’s what I want to see in the media.