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Congress proposes to abandon Iraq

A question of responsibility

February 2007

The condition in Iraq is what it is because the United States destroyed that country's societal adhesives.  While many in Congress are weary of war and want to cut and run, the one fact that should guide us is the responsibility of the U.S. to repair the vast damage we have inflicted on the innocent Iraqi people.  We must stay and ensure their security, however long it takes.
The United States invaded Iraq with the putative motive of freeing the Iraqi people from a tyrannical leader.  The actual situation, of which the U.S. experts were ignorant, turned out to be that a strong leader, with a strong enforcement apparatus, was absolutely necessary to hold together this sectarian artificial nation, reminiscent of Yugoslavia under Tito, or the USSR under Stalin.  When the U.S. dissolved this security apparatus – the strong leader, the armed forces, the courts, and the governmental bureaucracy – a predictable chaos followed.  Unfortunately, this was not predicted by Mr.G.W.Bush's incompetent advisors, chiefly Messrs. Cheney and Rumsfeld and Ms.Rice, along with the National Security Council, nor by the U.S. Senate, which overwhelmingly approved Mr.Bush's great adventure.

Now, four years after the U.S. invasion, with the Iraqi society ruined as a result of that invasion, Congress is saying,  "That's enough.  Time to go home."  They seem to mean:  "We didn't realize it would take this long.  We didn't expect opposition.  We didn't know it would cost this much.  We had no idea that soldiers would die."  And they are saying, loud and clear to the entire world:  "America's military might, just like our success in sports, is the strength of the sprinter.  Unbeatable in a short contest, but easy to wear out and not much good over the long haul."  So as it stands, America has no chance in a war against an enemy that is determined to hold out.  America gets war-weary;  the media stress the death of U.S. soldiers and zero in on their weeping families, in an overt effort to induce further war-weariness.  And before long, Congress responds and pulls the plug.  It happened in Viet Nam and it's in the process of happening in Iraq.

How things have changed over the past generation or two.  In 1942 Adolf Hitler and his fascist allies had conquered the entire European continent.  The most fearsome and cruel military machine ever assembled owned the continent, and had installed seemingly unbreachable fortifications on its perimeter.  The United States, who could have stayed out of the war in Europe, or limited its assistance to the defence of Britain, led an apparently hopeless assault on Hitler's impregnable "Fortress Europe" in 1944 that, after unimaginable difficulties and through sheer will and persistence, succeeded in freeing millions of grateful Europeans  – including the present author –  from the Nazi and fascist tyranny.  In that age of our parents and grandparents, when the United States of America said it would do something, it did it.

It's more than a little disgusting to see various politicians in the Senate now trying to writhe out of the net of responsibility for the disaster in Iraq.  Having further political ambitions, they want us to forget their part in the start of the Iraq war.  But the war resolution should not be forgotten.  When a Senator votes for war, he or she votes for the death of soldiers and civilians alike.  Arguing that you were duped carries no weight.  Certainly, the President bears the heaviest load of responsibility for our involvement in Iraq.  He foolishly proposed it to Congress, and he has mismanaged it.  But the war wouldn't have happened without the cooperation of the Senate.  This war may be George W. Bush's war, but it's also Hillary Clinton's war and John Kerry's war, along with the other senators who approved it.  It's amazing to see some of these main actors in the decision to go to war against Iraq now wanting to be considered for the position of the next President of the U.S!

But this short note is really about responsibility.  The one indisputable fact that should guide us in our discussion of Iraq and our involvement there is that the United States alone is responsible for the present condition of that nation.  What should that mean to us?  The Congress is ready to pack up and leave Iraq to its fate.  How does that jell with our responsibility for its condition?  It doesn't, clearly.  If there is moral fiber left in this country, and particularly in Congress, our course in Iraq must be to bear the responsibility we took on when we disassembled its structure.  And that means one course:  Discharge our duty to protect our victims until a stable and satisfactory solution is arrived at in Iraq.  This could take many years yet.  But however long it takes, it's our clear duty because we caused the damage.  An America that cuts and runs when the situation gets sticky is not an America that Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation" would have recognized.

One positive result that we may hope for out of this episode is that Congress finally learns that it doesn't vote an authorization for war unless the matter is important enough that the country is in agreement and is prepared to suffer costs and losses over an indeterminate period, so as to follow through to a successful conclusion.  This is the only rational basis for approving use of military force.  The Congress should, of course, have learned this after the disaster resulting from giving Lyndon Johnson the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in 1964, but it didn't.  It is perhaps Pollyannaish to expect our present and future politicians to learn any more from the Iraq experience, but hope beats eternal...

© 2007 H. Paul Lillebo

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