The Old-School Liberal

“Freedom granted only when it is known beforehand that its effects will be beneficial is not freedom” — Friedrich Hayek

Why not ask the Iraqis?

Posted by Poorsummary on February 12, 2008

LennieWhile politicians debate about how many decades we should leave troops in Iraq, more evidence surfaces to indicate that the US is less like the penitent shopper who broke an item, and more like Lennie Small from Of Mice and Men who just can’t leave well enough alone:

THE US occupying army in Iraq (euphemistically called the Multi-National Force-Iraq) carries out extensive studies of popular attitudes. Its December 2007 report of a study of focus groups was uncharacteristically upbeat.

The report concluded that the survey “provides very strong evidence” to refute the common view that “national reconciliation is neither anticipated nor possible”. On the contrary, the survey found that a sense of “optimistic possibility permeated all focus groups … and far more commonalities than differences are found among these seemingly diverse groups of Iraqis.”

This discovery of “shared beliefs” among Iraqis throughout the country is “good news, according to a military analysis of the results”, Karen deYoung reports in The Washington Post.

The “shared beliefs” were identified in the report. To quote deYoung, “Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of ‘occupying forces’ as the key to national reconciliation.”

So, according to Iraqis, there is hope of national reconciliation if the invaders, responsible for the internal violence, withdraw and leave Iraq to Iraqis.” (link)

The Iraq situation is a complicated one. Those who respect the constitution (though few they may be) say we had no right to go in, but there may be something to be said for fixing what we’ve broken. Perhaps the issue would be a bit clearer if we included the voice of the Iraqis in our decision making. After all, it’s their lives on the line.


3 Responses to “Why not ask the Iraqis?”

  1. You may recall photographs of purple fingers. That was an election, which we set up. Our current military presence in Iraq, under a UN mandate, comes at the request of the resulting elected Iraqi government. So I’m a little unclear what you mean by implying that we’re not including the voice of the Iraqis. The voice of the Iraqis, expressed through their elected government, has requested our military presence. If we *pulled out* despite this request, wouldn’t *that*, too, be ignoring the voice of the Iraqis?

    If your point is that a sufficiently-broadly-participated hypothetical Iraqi plebiscite on the single issue of ‘should the US have a military presence in Iraq’ would result in a win for ‘No’, well fine, but I’m not sure what the relevance is. Few places are run as pure democracies on which plebiscites are carried out on every issue. It’s not just Iraq – we don’t rule by plebiscite in the U.S. either and never have. (Thank goodness.) Does that mean the *U.S.* government doesn’t ‘include the voice of’ the *Americans*? Or just that we recognize that taking polls is not an effective or wise way to resolve every issue?

  2. Thanks for your response, Sonic.

    You make a very good point in that, in a sense, we are listening to the Iraqis because we are listening to their democratically elected government. And, of course, if we left Iraq we would be essentially ignoring the voice of the Iraqi government, which is arguably a decent proxy for the voice of the Iraqis.

    I guess what I meant when I implied that we’re not including the voice of the Iraqis is that in presidential debates, you will often hear people critical of the war talk about the percentage of US citizens who are in favor of a withdrawal from Iraq, but I have yet to hear anyone mention the percentage of Iraqis who are in favor of a withdrawal from Iraq. I agree with you that neither of those statistics should unilaterally determine policy, but shouldn’t both be at least considered? And shouldn’t the latter be ultimately more important?

    On a somewhat related point, you indicated that our current military presence in Iraq comes by authority of a UN mandate. When did the American people give the UN the power to declare war on behalf of our democratically elected government? I was under the impression that Congress was supposed to do that. And finally, I’ve noticed your references to Orwell on your blog (which, btw, I dig). When the WMDs didn’t turn up and the justification for the invasion of Iraq immediately transformed into freeing the Iraqis from a dictator and spreading democracy, didn’t that strike you as just a tad bit Orwellian (“We have always been at war with Eastasia….”)?

    Again, thanks for commenting and for keeping the conversation civil.

  3. Hi,

    Obviously Iraqi public opinion needs to be considered even if it’s only on a strategic & tactical level, i.e. “this is the lay of the land we face if we stay”. One can’t ever ignore it.

    But I do think it’s appropriate that U.S. Presidential candidates put a premium on what the American people want. Try this thought experiment: suppose poll-measured Iraqi public opinion were currently heavily, heavily in *favor* of the U.S. military presence; would you now be arguing that, despite domestic opposition in the U.S., we should ‘listen to the Iraqis’ and stay against the wishes of the majority here? Probably not. We’re the ones footing the bill & sending our soldiers, so how we feel about doing so ought to take priority IMHO. (And I say that even though I am in the minority which doesn’t favor withdrawal, and think the majority of the American people are wrong and misguided in their frustration and impatience with the military presence there.)

    There is also a bit of a problem with establishing a rule in postwar reconstructions/counterinsurgencies that ‘we can’t stay if they don’t want us to’. Suppose a poll of Germans in 1946 found they ‘wanted us to leave’ (as it might well have), should that have compelled us to leave? I can’t quite sign onto that precedent. We have an independent interest in the outcome of the power vacuum in Iraq, i.e. we cannot sit and watch some sort of Al Qaedastan form, and this is true even if ‘the Iraqi people’ ‘don’t want us there’.

    BTW: The UN mandate I spoke of didn’t “declare war on our behalf”. It’s not a “declaration of war” mandate at all (if there is such a thing), it rather speaks of things such as the need for help with security, training, etc. and was formally requested by the government of Iraq.

    news article –
    text of resolution 1790 –

    As you recall, when we *did* declare war on and invade Iraq this was done with no explicit UN approval. So in neither case (the 2003 war, or the postwar reconstruction/counterinsurgency) have we ceded to the UN our power to declare war, which I agree would be wrong.

    You raise a fair question about the WMDs, I probably will write about it on my site at some point and explain my views at greater length but I don’t want to hog your comments section more than I already have. The short answer is that I never considered “WMDs” to be “the justification for the invasion of Iraq”, I considered them to be simply the “case” Bush tried to present *to the UN Security Council* for why *they* should approve our invasion. Which, they didn’t. In other words, the “WMDs” argument was a dead-letter in my mind anyway: we had a bunch of stuff on Hussein, but (for whatever reason) when we got to the “court” that is the UN Security Council, the only (failed) “charges” we tried to bring against him were “WMDs”. Oh well. As you can guess I consider this UN “case” to be completely separate from the domestic “case”, which was based on more than merely asserting that the Hussein regime possessed functional WMDs (read, for example, the War Powers Resolution). But I understand the disagreement on this point and reasonable people do have big problems with my POV, and have for five years, in well-worn arguments, so I don’t expect agreement here 🙂

    Thank *you* for the response and I do appreciate your (probably more so) civil tone as well, it’s like a breath of fresh air. I’ll certainly come back to this blog. Best,

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